The Calgary Flames were looking for the perfect road trip.
This was far from a fairy tale ending.
Not only did the Flames lose Monday’s matchup against the New York Rangers, they ended up on the wrong end of a goaltending duel as they concluded a four-game run with a 2-0 setback at Madison Square Garden.
They also lost newly returned left winger Jakob Pelletier to an upper-body injury. The 22-year-old buzzsaw was crushed on a breakaway by Rangers captain Jacob Trouba and appeared to favor his left shoulder, the same part he had surgically repaired in the fall. He missed all of October, November and December while recovering from that procedure. This was only his fourth NHL start of the season.
There was no immediate word on the severity of Pelletier’s injury, and coach Ryan Huska told reporters at his postgame scrum that he had yet to speak with the team’s medical staff, but concern was evident as the Flames packed up their gear for an overnight flight back to Calgary.
“It’s brutal,” alternate captain Rasmus Andersson said when asked about Pelletier’s early departure. “We all love that boy. He’s a great guy and he brings a lot of energy to our room. He stinks. Hopefully, he will be okay.”
“Hopefully it’s not too serious,” echoed veteran winger Blake Coleman. “He is a great kid. He is so much fun to be with and makes a big difference in our room. “I don’t know much about it yet, but obviously we all hope the best for him.”
Flames fans, when they went to bed Monday, expected the same thing.
Just 28 games into his NHL career, this source of positivity forward is already a crowd favorite.
A gasp could probably be heard throughout Calgary when Pelletier, in just his second shift in Manhattan, absorbed a hard, clean check from Trouba while trying to clear his own zone.
It was immediately obvious that he was feeling some discomfort. He briefly remained on the visiting bench, but soon retired to the locker room and did not return.
The Flames’ next practice is scheduled for Wednesday, so we could be waiting until then for an update on Pelletier’s status. It would be a huge bummer if it’s another serious injury to that left shoulder.
“He’s just a great team player and we were very excited to have him back,” Flames captain Mikael Backlund said of Pelletier, who returned after the All-Star break and provided an injection of speed and energy in the fourth line. “It’s a shame he had to leave the game. We will see how he progresses.”
A few hours before Monday’s showdown with the Rangers, the Flames were celebrating the news that their stalwart goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, had been hailed as the NHL’s first Star of the Week.
Markstrom turned in another stellar performance in Manhattan, but Igor Shesterkin was even better.
Shesterkin pitched a 30-save shutout in the home zone, highlighted by two key stops on Coleman as the Flames sought a late equalizer.
“Without Marky, it’s 5-0 or 6-0,” Andersson complained after a failed attempt at a fifth consecutive victory. “It was one of those nights where there was a good player on our team.”
Markstrom was credited with 29 saves, including a pair of point-blank beauties, on Chris Kreider and then Vincent Trochek, during a stretch of four-on-four action in the first period. He later got an insurance goal from a wide open Blake Wheeler.
The Rangers finally got past it at the 12:31 mark of the middle stanza, after a botched connection between Oliver Kylington and Coleman resulted in a turnover at the offensive blue line. The hosts went the other way in an odd-man race and, while Markstrom denied Kaapo Kakko on the initial chance, rookie Will Cuylle collected his second on the rebound.
The Rangers scored their second goal of the night into an empty net with 18.7 seconds left on the clock.
In four starts since the All-Star break, including wins in Boston, New Jersey and Long Island, Markstrom, 34, has a sparkling .945 save percentage and a 1.76 goals-against average.
“He’s a Vezina-caliber goalie,” Flames defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said during a postgame interview on Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “He’s the reason we had a good road trip. He looks great out there. He’s making amazing saves for us. “We are very lucky to have him.”
The Flames will now return home for the fourth straight game at the Saddledome, beginning with Thursday’s matchup against the San Jose Sharks (7 p.m. MT, Sportsnet One/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
“Before this trip, if we had said we were going to go 3-1, we would have been very happy,” Backlund said after Monday’s loss in New York, which leaves his team with a 25-23-5 record. “We played good hockey. Now we have to go home and get back to it.”