Looking for net gains

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

The pause wasn't long, but it couldn't be missed.

Upon stopping his players in yesterday's practice, Calgary Flames head coach Mike Keenan skated over to netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, had a few words, then went to the corner of the rink and started up the drill again.

What Keenan's exact words were, we'll ever know. Noticeable was Kiprusoff's immediate change in his approach in practice. After staying on his feet previously, when most shooters were bearing down, the suddenly embattled netminder was more aggressive and dropping to the butterfly on nearly every shot.

Naturally, Keenan was asked after practice if he wanted to divulge what he told Kiprusoff, who was pulled in the third period of Thursday night's 5-3 loss in Vancouver after surrendering five goals on 20 shots.

"Not particularly," Keenan replied. "Just that we were pushing guys to the outside and I suggested we shoot from the angles. I wanted to let him know that."

Keenan said the conversation had nothing to do with the Vancouver game.

No concerns, right? Well, maybe or maybe not.

Keenan wasn't happy about being asked whether it was a positive word he had with the netminder.

"That's none of your business," he said, showing the media a side that hadn't been seen since he arrived in Calgary. "I already answered the question, so why do you guys want to cause a problem?

"I told you what happened."

As for Kiprusoff's perspective, it remains a mystery.

The netminder was the second player to leave the ice and had showered, changed and left the Saddledome before the team's media relations staff could tell him members of the assembled media wanted to talk with him.

Naturally, the questions will now come whether there is trouble brewing between Keenan and Kiprusoff.

Kiprusoff, a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy and one-time winner, has certainly fallen short of expectations this season. Granted, in the five games prior to the disappointment in Vancouver, he had posted a 2.19 goals-against average and a 3-0-2 record, but he's been plagued with inconsistencies through the first three months. His goals against average is more than 2.86, and even worse is his save percentage, a shockingly low .893.

Kiprusoff has yet to post a shutout this season -- which isn't always an indicator of the goalie's play -- and has rarely stolen a win for the team that's sitting eighth in the Western Conference standings heading into tonight's clash with the Anaheim Ducks.

Kiprusoff was called out by Keenan early in December after the overtime loss that began the team's run of 11 games without losing in regulation -- a positive reaction to be sure. At that time, there were questions whether the star netminder and coach were on the same page.

Still, Keenan didn't sound overly concerned about any issue between him and Kiprusoff. Asked if he needed a different rapport with a netminder than any other player, Keenan pointed out he didn't discuss the technical points with netminders.

"I don't tell them what to work on at all," he said. "I just tell them they're playing the majority of the games. I think Miikka's played 37 of the 38 games, the most in the NHL.

"I'll give you an analogy with Eddie Belfour. When most teams were going with two goalies -- and probably I when I came in was the guy that pushed for one goalie -- I thought 'Why wouldn't you use one goalie that is better off or more talented than your second goalie more often?'

"I asked Eddie -- addressing the issue about pulling goalies -- 'If I play you 60-65 games and you get pulled six times, once every 10 games, would you prefer that? Or would you rather play 40 games and get pulled three times?'

"He said, 'I'd rather play 60 games,' so Miikka's playing 95 per cent of the games and he's been pulled twice. I don't talk to the goalies about their technical aspect -- that's up to the goaltending coach. I talk to them about their play and then rest and recovery."

A few other issues were broached regarding the team, but Keenan's session with the media -- more than seven minutes -- ended abruptly when he was asked if he expected Kiprusoff to play all six of the games that will come in a 10-game stretch, including the Vancouver game and road tilts in San Jose and Los Angeles.

"We just go one day at a time. You guys are really pressing about Miikka today, aren't ya?" he said before walking away. "I'll see you later."


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