SUN Hockey Pool

Markk of an ironman

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

COLUMBUS -- He's listened to fans suggest GM Kevin Lowe absolutely MUST make a trade for a No. 1 goaltender if the Edmonton Oilers are to contend in the Western Conference.

Jussi Markkanen has also listened to we media geniuses insist likewise since before training camp began.

As a further annoyance, we've diligently documented Markkanen's workload in the crease - it will reach 13 straight starts tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets - since Ty Conklin's groin and game went south.

As the consecutive starts have mounted - eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 - we've asked Markkanen if he can handle the load. If he's feeling the pressure. If, essentially, he can hack it. I mean, he's not a REAL No. 1 goaltender, right? He's just sort of, well, pretending.

Through it all, especially the last 12 games, Markkanen has answered every question about keeping the No. 1 guy's seat warm until Lowe makes a trade without laughing out loud at how clueless we are.

A 13th straight start? No big deal - Markkanen played 54 straight regular season games and 10 more in the playoffs with Lada Togliatti of the Russian League during the lockout. That's right, 64 in a row.

ISN'T SWEATING

Juice isn't sweating a baker's dozen.

"It's somewhere in my mind, but I'm not thinking about it," Markkanen said of the string of consecutive starts he's on. "Then I see it somewhere and I think, 'Oh yes, I know that.' "

That Markkanen played 64 games with Lada Togliatti is right there in the Oilers media guide. There just weren't any asterisks pointing out the games were consecutive, that he never missed one after signing a contract. The numbers the 30-year-old from Imatra, Finland takes in against the Blue Jackets - he's 7-7-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .902 saves percentage - are equally impressive. These from a guy who missed training camp with a broken collarbone.

"I believe I can," says Markkanen, asked if he's capable of carrying the bulk of the load for this entire season. "At the same time, you just try to focus on the short term.

"That's my mindset pretty much all the time. I just try to get myself really into that next game."

With just 69 NHL games on his resume when the season started, Markkanen understands the perception he's not a go-to guy. In his first stint with the Oilers, he was Tommy Salo's caddie. This year, he was supposed to backup Conklin in a more even split.

"You have to think what the situation has been here," reasons Markkanen. "For a long time, there's been a No. 1 guy here.

"I would say that if I was a fan, I would kind of think the same way. These guys, we're both unproven to do the job, so no one can be sure about it. But, like I said, I believe we can."

In a season in which the Oilers have produced significant swings in performance and results, Markkanen has consistently given his team a chance to win. He's stolen a point or two, as well.

"We've had pretty good goaltending performances out of Jussi," said coach Craig MacTavish. "He's just stringing them together like good No. 1 goaltenders do."

With Mike Morrison working the gate, MacTavish will ride the Finn, although he might actually get a night off with back-to-back games in Chicago and Colorado to end the swing.

"He's clearly played himself into a position where he is the goaltender who we go to in big games and crucial stretches," MacTavish said. "Maybe that will stop the questions for a while. How many games in a row can he play? I guess it's 54, so don't ask me."

NOT THE POINT

For those fond of minutiae, 54 straight starts would take Markkanen through a March 1 game against St. Louis, while 64 would mean nobody else gets a sniff until after March 21 against Vancouver. It won't happen, of course, but that's not the point.

"You just have to rest once in awhile," says Markkanen, asked about his workload last season. "I get my sleep at night!"


Videos

Photos