SUN Hockey Pool

Kiprusoff loses his rear view

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff won't miss staring at Ryan Smyth's backside.

The Calgary Flames goaltender is ecstatic he won't have to deal with the incredible skills (or annoying habits, depending on your perspective) Smyth puts on display when he parks on the edge of -- and sometimes in -- the crease.

For example, Kiprusoff won't miss those little tugs at his feet in an attempt to knock him ever so slightly off balance or taps on the stick to break his concentration.

While Edmonton Oilers fans were lamenting Smyth's departure to the New York Islanders Tuesday, Kiprusoff was feeling elation, and certainly not in the mood to send a "miss you already" card.

"Yeah, I was happy to see him go to the East," said the Flames netminder.

When Kiprusoff and the Flames meet the Oilers tonight in Edmonton, it'll be a new era.

Gone is Smyth, regarded by so many as the heart and soul of the Oilers. Gone is the veteran whose career stats against the Flames add up to 15 goals and 12 assists in 55 Battle of Alberta clashes.

From Kiprusoff's perspective, though, gone is a nemesis. For all his skills, Smyth's biggest impact comes at the edge of the blue paint. He can drive a goalie batty with his presence on top of scoring goals with deflections or rebounds.

"I think every team has a guy like that but he's one of the best doing it," Kiprusoff said. "I don't think I have to worry about him again this year, and that's good for me."

It's a change even for Jarome Iginla. Remember, Smyth was already proving himself a key component of the Oilers when Iginla broke into the league a raw rookie in the 1996-97 season.

"They still have a lot of guys. Up front, they have a lot of scoring power and nifty players, like (Ales) Hemsky and (Shawn) Horcoff and they've got guys who've been there a long time like Jason Smith," Iginla said. "It's an adjustment on their point of view but from ours, we play the same way."

"We've been through that. Teams lose big players all the time. Theo (Fleury) moved from here at the deadline and I don't think they were talking about it."

Not that the Flames are losing sleep over it but the Oilers' fortunes have taken a dramatic turn for the worse since the trade that netted Edmonton young pro Robert Nilsson -- former Flames star Kent Nilsson's son -- junior-aged prospect Ryan O'Marra and a first-round draft choice.

The defending Western Conference champs have to cling to faint hope of making the playoffs, sitting 11 points back of eighth-place Calgary with 17 games remaining.

They've lost three straight and have been shutout decidedly in both outings since Smyth was traded.

"I think they're probably excited we're coming to town," said Craig Conroy. "Any time it's the Battle of Alberta, it's gonna bring some more emotion and it's gonna help them out."


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