Still without a win this season, Calgary Flames backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson certainly deserved one Friday night.
Easily his team’s best player in a 2-1 loss to the host Buffalo Sabres, the big Swede looked like the only member of the Flames not feeling the effects of back-to-back games.
So while plenty of people will point to the ongoing plan of playing the backup more often this season as a failure, others are being converted in their belief Karlsson is nothing more than a second-stringer.
“It’s certainly encouraging the way he’s playing. We have no problem at all putting him in net and playing for us and doing a good job for us. He’s proved it again tonight he can do it,” said head coach Brent Sutter, whose team managed just one goal in the third period on an Alex Tanguay tip that trickled off the post and in. “He’s a very good goaltender. We like him a lot.”
The players had a funny way of showing it, allowing 44 shots against. Karlsson turned 42 of them away.
“We gave up a few too many shots tonight,” captain Jarome Iginla said in what might be the understatement of the season. “Karlsson, it was maybe the best game I’ve seen him play. He kept us in it.
“They had some real point-blank chances. He was awesome. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get him the win.”
That’s becoming a theme, but it’s more and more evident Karlsson isn’t the reason for it.
In the first period alone at the First Niagara Center, Karlsson stopped 17 of 18 shots while the Flames played much of the opening 20 minutes shorthanded thanks in part to three penalties.
Although the 6-foot-6 backstop was down early on Drew Stafford’s goal that opened the scoring, the perfect shot might have been impossible to stop even if he’d been a little more patient.
He certainly didn’t seem out of position the rest of the period — or evening — less than 24 hours after the rest of his teammates pounded out a 4-1 victory at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
In fact, he was the only reason the Flames had even a slim hope of pulling out some points.
They couldn’t, but every other player in that dressing room wanted to do it for the 27-year-old, who’s playing in just his second NHL season.
Karlsson made blocker saves, pad blocks, a desperation toe stop on a spinning backhander from Derek Roy.
He showed lateral quickness and better rebound control than we’ve seen in his brief time and appearances so far.
And when it did get away, he often made that second save, too.
A bit unlucky as a deflected point shot went right across the ice to Nathan Gerbe’s stick in the third period for the Sabres’ second goal, Karlsson deserved a better fate, deserved to improve his record.
He only improved his reputation.
“I feel pretty good. But at the end of the day, it’s not about how I feel,” Karlsson said.
“We just have to take those points. It’s frustrating right now. But I’m sure I can take something good from this game and keep working hard. I feel my game is getting better every day. I feel confident out there.
“I’m going to keep working hard, and hopefully, I’m getting a win soon.”
His teammates feel the same way.
“Hank’s been awesome,” said blueliner Chris Butler.
“Not only tonight, but the last game he started, too. It’s unfortunate we haven’t been able to reward him with a win — you look at some of the saves he made, keeping us in the game.
“We really owe him one. Hopefully, we quit saying that soon enough.”