NET CON­CERN FOR MARKSTROM

24 Hours Vancouver - - SPORTS - BEN KUZMA

Goal­tend­ing is back on the front burner as a fo­cal point of cu­rios­ity and con­cern — and the heat is go­ing to be turned up on Ja­cob Markstrom.

This is what hap­pens in free agency when men­tor Ryan Miller moves on to Ana­heim and An­ders Nils­son moves from Buf­falo to Van­cou­ver. The com­fort fac­tor of hav­ing a proven con­fi­dant in Miller is re­placed by re­unit­ing with a former Swedish world ju­nior team­mate in Nils­son.

In the­ory, Markstrom should be more than ca­pa­ble of be­ing the Canucks’ starter. He’s 27 and en­ter­ing the first sea­son of a three-year, US$11 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion. At times, he played bet­ter than Miller last sea­son and at times he watched the be­lea­guered stop­per face more than 40 shots on nine oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing three times in the fi­nal month of a fran­chise free-fall.

De­spite the ob­vi­ous frus­tra­tion, Miller main­tained an amaz­ing level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. He was me­thod­i­cal and ar­tic­u­late dur­ing press­ing post-game scrums. And that’s go­ing to be the chal­lenge for Markstrom in a hockey-mad mar­ket where be­ing The Guy means be­ing in the crosshairs.

“I’ve got some point­ers,” Markstrom said Tues­day of sug­ges­tions from the club’s pub­lic re­la­tions staff.

“Some­times, if you don’t like a ques­tion, it shows. I’ve got a cou­ple of point­ers when deal­ing with the me­dia that I should be a lit­tle nicer, but that (ques­tion­ing) is part of the game and you’ve got to en­joy it.”

If Markstrom meets ex­pec­ta­tions, he can talk a blue streak af­ter any out­ing and no­body will be red-faced be­cause win­ning is ev­ery­thing. It’s when things go off the rails for any starter that the true test of char­ac­ter comes to the fore­front.

It’s easy to be sullen, short and end the scrum. It’s more dif­fi­cult to own up and try to put ev­ery­thing in per­spec­tive.

How­ever, how Markstrom han­dles the me­dia will be dwarfed by how he will re­spond af­ter April’s knee surgery. His goals-against av­er­age last sea­son (2.63) was ac­tu­ally bet­ter than Miller’s (2.80) and his .910 saves per­cent­age was only slightly be­hind Miller’s .914.

Markstrom had stel­lar out­ings last sea­son. He had three con­sec­u­tive wins to start the sea­son and al­lowed just five goals on 73 shots. He had a sea­son-high 42 saves in a 3-2 shootout win on Dec. 31 in Ed­mon­ton, but also had a bad out­ing Nov. 15 at Rogers Arena in al­low­ing seven goals on 25 shots against the New York Rangers.

“I’ve been get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter and in pre­vi­ous years, I wanted to play more games than I did,” Markstrom said of 23 starts last sea­son af­ter 30 in 2015-16.

“That’s what in­spires me to work even harder to get as good as pos­si­ble. And I’m su­per ex­cited to work with An­ders be­cause it’s about win­ning hockey games and we’re go­ing to need ev­ery­body.”

bkuzma@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/@benkuzma

GAVIN YOUNG/POST­MEDIA FILE

The pres­sure is on Canucks goalie Ja­cob Markstrom to help the team suc­ceed this sea­son.

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