Flames goalie Dustin Wolf determined to learn from rough outing against Sharks

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Every single young player is going to have nights like Dustin Wolf had on Thursday.

Nights where you just don’t quite have your A-game.

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The Calgary Flames have brought up several young players this season from the AHL, and even guys who quickly established themselves as difference-makers have had off-games.

But when a Connor Zary or a Martin Pospisil isn’t at their best, it goes a little more under-the-radar than it does when Wolf has a bad game.

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That’s the nature of the goaltending position.

Mistakes are amplified. The spotlight burns bright.

On Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks, Wolf stopped only 24 of the 30 shots he faced. There were a few that weren’t his fault and a couple he’d like to have back.

They’re not all going to be good nights, and Thursday was one of those Wolf would surely love to forget.

Except he won’t forget it. That’s not in Wolf’s nature.

Instead, the goal is to learn from it. That’s what the Flames want from him.

“I think ‘rough’ is a good way to put it,” Wolf said post-game. “It’s one of those where you make some saves and next thing you know a couple are in your net and a couple bounces don’t go your way.

“That’s the nature of hockey and professional hockey. It’s a hard league to play in. (The loss) sucks, but it’s a great opportunity to go back and look and see some fixes and go from there.”

There won’t be any piling-on of Wolf here.

The 22-year-old didn’t play great on Thursday night, but again, that’s part of the process for young players and young goalies in particular.

Nobody should be expecting him to turn away pucks in the NHL the way he has in the AHL, where he was named the league’s top goalie in back-to-back seasons and was MVP last year.

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Wolf’s been an all-star this season with the Wranglers, too, posting a 2.25 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

It’s only a matter of time before he’s with the Flames full-time, and one bad performance in a game where none of his teammates looked especially sharp either isn’t going to change that.

“It’s a lesson, I guess, that he’s got to find a way,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska. “He’s good that way, he’ll flush it and move on from it. There’s certain things that he’ll take from it and make sure he’s better his next start.”

That is, unquestionably, the most important thing.

While he allowed six goals against the Sharks, he could hardly be faulted for a few of them.

Calgary Flames vs. San Jose Sharks
Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund battles San Jose Sharks defenceman Kyle Burroughs at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

Turnovers by MacKenzie Weegar and Noah Hanifin in the Flames zone led directly to Sharks goals in the second period. An extremely weird deflection off Filip Zadina’s stick saw the puck bounce high above Wolf’s head and in.

And there was a bit of bad luck in Luke Kunin’s goal, too.

“The first two, the first one I kind of caught an edge and the second one they make a good play off a turnover,” Wolf said. “The third one I just kind of missed my post and (Chris Tanev) tried to put it back into me for a whistle and you can get away with that in the American League.

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“I wasn’t super pleased with the goals in the third and those are the times where you need to make a couple saves to give the team some life.”

Wolf didn’t make those saves on Thursday night, but he’s still a player who is in the development stage of his career. The expectation is he’ll learn from his mistakes and then get to work fixing them.

And talk to anyone around the Flames organization and you’ll hear the same thing: Wolf’s work ethic is unmatched.

So Thursday night was what it was. A tough game from a player who will surely have many better nights ahead of him in a Flames uniform.

There were a lot of veterans with a lot more experience who played poorly for the Flames against the Sharks on Thursday. That’s far more of a concern than a young goalie having a disappointing start.

“You always want to come out and play the very best you can,” Wolf said. “I didn’t expect to play today, but super happy I got to and obviously unfortunate for the outcome. But these are games and days that you look back on and they suck, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity to evaluate yourself as a player and a person and come back stronger.”

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