Red light Kipper

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

CALGARY -- If the inflated numbers were stock quotes, people would be thrilled.

But since the digits in question are the Calgary Flames' goals against over the last couple of weeks, nobody is celebrating.

Before embarking on their mid-December road swing, the Flames were among the stingiest in the league, surrendering an average of 2.3 goals per game.

Since that time, their goals-against average is now more in line with that of the porous Philadelphia Flyers.

Over the last eight games, 30 pucks have bulged the twine behind Calgary's netminders. It's even worse in the last half-dozen outings, with 24 goals allowed.

Score one for Miikka Kiprusoff - who's been between the pipes for all but one of those outings - for his willingness to take the blame.

WHERE IT STARTS

"It starts with goaltending," he said after yesterday's optional practice in advance of tonight's New Year's Eve tilt against the Edmonton Oilers at the Saddledome.

"That's my problem there. I'm able to play better than I've been playing the last few games."

Certainly the reigning Vezina Trophy winner hasn't been at his best of late.

Want an example?

How about the last four goals he surrendered on nine shots Wednesday night in Vancouver during a 6-5 OT loss.

He allowed four more against Los Angeles, two in the final 38 seconds, Friday night before leaving the ice in anger.

WORK HARD

"I want to get my goals against down. To do it, I have to work hard and have a good game (tonight against Edmonton)," he said. "I'm 100% (healthy). If we win, it doesn't matter if it's 6-5 or whatever, but I'm able to play better."

The blame game, though, goes further than Kiprusoff, and it's awfully difficult to find a player in the Calgary dressing room who'll pin any of the team's defensive struggles on the star netminder.

"It's ludicrous," said defenceman Andrew Ference. "We've got the best goalie in the league.

"You look at some of the goals that have been scored and there's been some pretty crazy bounces lately and you're gonna get that in a season.

"Overall, if you look at the goals against, the solid, good teams still have a low goals against and we're one of them."

The Flames have quietly climbed to the top half of the NHL in goals for per game, but it's come at the expense of the their solid defensive game.


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