The boss, quite obviously, was unimpressed.
The message was obvious: “your guy messed up tonight, so you go explain this.”
Out came Jason LaBarbera with the type of deer-in-the-headlights-look one might expect, rationally explaining that while Jacob Markstrom would like to have had a few goals back, the sun would come up tomorrow and their Vezina hopeful would get back to work.
And while all this drama and message sending was going on, a gentleman sitting in his southwest Calgary home couldn’t help but howl with laughter.
“Been there, done that,” chuckled former Flames goalie coach David Marcoux as he answered the phone.
“Welcome to the jungle. Welcome to Sutterland.”
Marcoux knows first-hand how LaBarbera’s surprise assignment came to be, as he too was subjected to it while overseeing the club’s netminding from 2003-2009 while Sutter was coach and then GM.
“Probably once a year, and sometimes it wasn’t in bad times either,” he said, taking us behind Sutter’s iron curtain.
“The first time I remember he had other things to do, so I was taking it more as an experience with the media. That time it wasn’t after a poor performance from Kipper (Miikka Kiprusoff).
“But there were times it was the exact same scenario as tonight that he’d do that.”
And the message was crystal clear.
“I vividly remember conversations right after a game, when the heat is high in the coaches’ room, he’d say, ‘Rico (Rich Preston), the power play was awful, you go answer them.’ Or if the defence struggled he’d send Jim Playfair. If Kipper struggled, I could get the call.
“He would shift the burden.”
Breaking into another giggle at the memory, he said LaBarbera’s cameo was borne out of frustration, but also very calculated.
“Tonight it was like, ‘okay, you figure it out Barbs,’” he said.
“He’s taken it to another level.”
Just another tool in Sutter’s tool box.
“You’re bang on,” said Marcoux, who now runs a goalie school in Calgary.
“Markstrom has been stellar for the whole year, but now he allows too many and (Sutter) creates a little hype and tension.
“Sometimes he’d go to you guys at the presser and he would say, ‘our goaltender was horse (bleep) tonight,’ and he would go right at Kipper because he knew the importance of Kipper.
“Then guys like (Rhett) Warrener and (Robyn) Regehr would say, ‘that’s not right, we need to step up. It’s a team thing.”
It’s a mind game, which Sutter plays like a master puppeteer, sending messages every which way and keeping everyone on their toes.
It’s all brilliant theatre, put on by this season’s obvious Jack Adams winner.
In a game the Flames led 2-0 early on, it was a floater from the point Markstrom muffed late in the first to get the Sharks back into it.
Mikael Backlund gave the Flames a 3-1 lead early in the second before Markstrom allowed a sharp-angled shot by Timo Meier from the corner to bounce in off him to make it 3-2 heading into the third.
The Flames ruined their 30-0-2 record when leading after two when Alexander Barabanov and Logan Couture scored 28 seconds apart midway through the third to take a 4-3 lead James Reimer wouldn’t let the visitors relinquish.
Neither of the two late goals were Markstrom’s fault, as both came off turnovers that left the goal scorer alone in front.
But the damage had been done earlier in a game that never should have been in doubt.
A Vezina candidate who had been on a 14-0-2 run at home before the loss, Markstrom didn’t help his cause by taking a late first-period slashing penalty in response to a Sharks player putting the puck in the net after a whistle
“It’s a long season, there are going to be ups and downs for sure but you move past it and get back to work tomorrow,” said LaBarbera, who admitted afterward it had probably been 10 years since the former NHL netminder had hosted a presser.
“He’s fine, it’s one game. You move past it. You wake up and the sun comes up. He made a lot of big stops at times but it’s just one of those games where, as a group, we weren’t at our best.”
As Marcoux suggested, the players were quick to rally around their goalie, who had a tough finish to his previous start when he whiffed on a clearing pass to set up Buffalo’s overtime winner.
“Backbone. MVP. Best player on our team. Whatever you want to say, it’s been that way all year,” said Matthew Tkachuk.
“We did a pretty terrible job in front of Marky tonight. We’re up 3-2 in the third and at home, that’s a great spot to be in. We allow a wide-open chance in front, somebody by themselves. We can’t do that. It’s basically a 2-on-0 at the end and that’s a goal on any goalie in the league.”
His own harshest critic, Markstrom predictably owned the loss.
“Not good,” was his assessment of a 34-save outing.
“Four goals against at home. I thought we kept the chances down, but you’ve got to stop all four. That wasn’t good. I’ve got to be better. That sucks when we score three goals after two periods. We should be up 3-0, but we’re not.
“It gave them a chance to stay in the game and you can’t do that. Frustrating.
“That’s what happens when you don’t get goaltending in this league you lose hockey games.
“It sucks and it’s not a good feeling. But I’ve got to work tomorrow and the next day and I sure as hell have got to be better.”
As LaBarbera left the podium, he overheard someone joke that his three-minute presser lasted longer than most of Sutter’s.
“Not as entertaining, though,” confirmed LaBarbera.