SUN Hockey Pool

Virgin Kipper territory

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff is in uncharted waters.

Regrettable goals contributing to a 3.19 GAA. Five straight losses.

This isn't what the former Vezina Trophy winner is used to during his time in Calgary.

The Flames goaltender wasn't at his best while his team was shorthanded against the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night and head coach Mike Keenan wasn't afraid to mention that fact when asked about the team's struggles on the penalty kill.

Asked to probe deeper into his star netminder's woes through 17 games this season, Keenan was more cautious yesterday.

"He's not the first goaltender that's had a slow start in this league, and he won't be the last," said Keenan.

"The unfortunate thing for them, when they're not on top of their game, they're the last line of defence and they've got nowhere to hide. If somebody's not doing their job on defence, the goaltender's got to stop the puck. If somebody's not doing the job on forward, then the defence has to do the job for the forward and it goes back right to the net. That's what every goaltender has to deal with.

"They understand that, and that's part of the position that they chose to play."

It's obvious Kiprusoff isn't at the top of his game. No Flame currently is, but while the trickle effect has an effect on the goaltender's statistics, the most glaring deficiency is also the most damning.

Kiprusoff's .884 save percentage ranks 41st, ahead of only two other active goalies.

"This will be the seventh Vezina Trophy winner I've coached and they've all had their ebbs and tides," said Keenan. "The solution for all of them that I've seen in the past is for them to continue to work really hard in practice and don't obsess about what they have done in the past in terms of maybe not playing to the level of their expectation."

Numbers mean nothing to the Finn, whose general indifference is what has made him such a remarkable netminder in the past, but the lack of wins admittedly sucks.

"It's some tough times. Too many losses there," he said.

"But you have to keep it positive, anyways, and just work hard. Work your way out of it."

A shootout drill that saw Kiprusoff give up a handful while current backup Matt Keetley was in fine form stopping all but one didn't instill a heckuva lot of confidence in those watching, but that's one area Kiprusoff isn't lacking despite his cold streak.

"He's a warrior, not a worrier," said goaltending coach David Marcoux. "He has a tremendous amount of confidence in his abilities. Things don't always go your way, but when you're working through it and you're confident in your abilities -- you know you can make those saves -- in the dressing room language, (stuff) happens.

"When a questionable goal goes in, he parks it, he moves on, and he makes a great save on the back door. That is inspiring for his teammates. Everybody makes mistakes. It's your attitude that dictates where you want to go. Your attitude is your response to a mistake."

The Flames need their netminder to be stellar to help them out of their current slump. But Kiprusoff's teammates have to reciprocate. The 456 shots he's faced are the third most of any goaltender so far.


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