SUN Hockey Pool

Goal-den chance for Miikka

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff knows until the puck drops on the new season, his last meaningful game will be a hot-button issue.

That would be the seventh-game loss to the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs, in which the Calgary Flames goaltender was unceremoniously yanked.

However, Kiprusoff has moved on and figures everybody else bothering to bring up that night should, as well.

"It's a new season, fresh start and new players," said the Flames goaltender. "I can't worry about what happened and have to look forward."

Still, it was an unforgettable sight at the Shark Tank.

As he sat on the bench in favour of Curtis Joseph, Kiprusoff's anger couldn't be missed, and the easy belief was his relationship with head coach Mike Keenan would be irreparably fractured.

Not so, Kiprusoff insisted.

"If you lose Game 7, you can't be too happy," Kiprusoff said. "It doesn't matter which way you try to put it, it's disappointment. This team -- all of us -- we want to go further than the first round."

For that to happen, the Flames need their star netminder to be a bigger factor than he was last season.

Sure, there are many elements that must come together for a better season in the Stampede City, but an easy case can be made Kiprusoff is the biggest.

You know Jarome Iginla will provide the leadership and offensive production.

You know Dion Phaneuf's scoring and punishing hits will be front and centre, just like Robyn Regehr's top-notch shutdown abilities.

And you know Mike Cammalleri, Daymond Langkow and Todd Bertuzzi should provide a strong supporting cast.

What will the team get from Kiprusoff this season? That's the $64,000 question.

Over the last three seasons, his numbers have been steadily declining.

The goals-against average has increased from 2.07 to 2.46 to 2.69, while his save percentage has fallen from .923 to .917 to .906.

The whispers among those wondering whether his game is on a downward trajectory have started to grow louder.

Kiprusoff won't say whether he is motivated to disprove those doubters -- "As a goalie, you can not listen much to what other people are saying" -- but those around him believe he has an extra spark.

"Most of us are not satisfied with last year's team performances, and, from a goalie standpoint, he did get 39 wins, but he knows he can be better than that," said goalie coach David Marcoux. "Of expectations everybody else has, his are even higher than that.

"The motivation is there -- that element of wanting to be there and being a key member of this hockey club is important to him.

"He cares a lot about the team. He's a proud guy in a positive way and loves to battle and compete. He's very demanding of himself and wants success."

For the record, Kiprusoff admits his performance last season wasn't up to snuff.

"You can't be happy about it," said the goalie. "We barely made the playoffs and lost in the first round. My stats, I wasn't one of those top guys, so I can't be totally happy.

"I was close to 40 wins again, so that's good, but there are things I'd like to do better this year."

The starting point was in fitness testing.

Kiprusoff's conditioning has been an issue the past couple of years, and this summer, he worked harder to improve it. He spent more time running and hit the ice earlier than usual, skating with the Turku squad and NHLers such as Saku and Mikko Koivu and Sami Salo.

"That was good for me to have some practices. My training was trying to be more ready for the first game of the season," Kiprusoff said. "I feel good right now."

And the verdict?

"We had demands for the summer time, and he met those demands," Marcoux said. "He came here in good shape."

But now comes the long-term test.

Kiprusoff's new contract -- six years, US$35 million -- kicks in this season, which is money befitting a Vezina Trophy winner.

The onus is on Kiprusoff to again be among those elite netminders with the stingy goals-against average.

"When the season starts, you can't look at those things. You can say, 'Yeah, that's where I want to be' ... it's something you can set as your goal. But when the season starts, you can't worry about it. I just play the games and after the season check the numbers."


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