Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, of Sweden, looks on during a stoppage in play during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 13, 2021. As the Calgary Flames try to snap out of their malaise, the return of their star goalie appears imminent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Jacob Markstrom closes in on return for struggling Calgary Flames

Jacob Markstrom closes in on return for struggling Calgary Flames

CALGARY — As the Calgary Flames try to snap out of their malaise, the return of their star goalie appears imminent.

Sidelined five games with lower-body injury, Jacob Markstrom put in a full practice Wednesday with the Flames.

“He’s close,” Flames head coach Geoff Ward said. “Right now he’s going through hurdles to get clearance from our medical staff.

“He should be ready to go moving forward here based on sort of what we saw, but we’ll leave that decision up to the medical people ultimately.”

Markstrom was pulled midway through a 7-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 20 to open a six-game road trip.

A 2-3-1 swing, including a pair of losses to the division cellar-dwelling Ottawa Senators, dropped the Flames below the .500 mark (10-11-1) heading into Thursday’s rematch at home against the Sens.

Markstrom was Calgary’s best player the first quarter of the season with an 8-4-1 record, a .924 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average.

The coveted free agent signed a six-year, US$36-million contract with the Flames in October after seven seasons in the Vancouver Canucks organization.

In his seventh straight start, and 14th of Calgary’s first 16 games of the season, the six-foot-six Swede twice collided hard with Canucks players while coming out his crease to challenge them Feb. 17.

Three days later in Edmonton, Markstrom was replaced by David Rittich after giving up five goals to the Oilers on 15 shots.

Whether he returns Thursday against Ottawa, or in the weekend’s back-to-back games against the Oilers and Senators respectively, Markstrom is hungry to help restore his team’s confidence.

“Stop the puck. That’s my top and only priority,” Markstrom said.

“It sucks not being out there to battle with the team. You want to be out there for the good times, but also, when we’re not playing our best and guys are battling, you want to be out there with them and get us out of this little slump.”

Veteran forward Derek Ryan also skated Wednesday and appears ready to return to the lineup after missing 12 games with a broken finger.

“Things are a little heavy around here,” Ryan said. “Guys are gripping the sticks, and it’s just not the happiest place right now.

“So I was trying to bring a little positivity today in practice and then when I get in the lineup, it’s more of that, the energy, positivity.”

The Flames are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and scored one goal or less in seven of them.

Calgary sits three points back of fourth-place Montreal with the halfway point of the pandemic-shortened season looming March 13 when the Canadiens come to Calgary.

“We’ve got some guys coming back from injury, which is a positive thing for us,” Ward said.

“There’s no panic in our situation. We understand exactly where we’re at. But we also understand the only people who can get us out of this is ourselves.

“We need to come together collectively, we need to do the things that we need to do to, to make positive plays, we need to look after what’s important on a daily basis, and we’ll start to go the other way again.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Calgary Flames