Solid Kipper on record pace

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

If Miikka Kiprusoff isn't taking criticism, it seems he's not being talked about at all these days.

The reclusive Calgary Flames netminder prefers avoiding the spotlight, but after a first half that projects over a full season a new NHL goaltending record, it's time he gets credit for helping his team turn things around after a rocky start.

Appearing in all but two of the Flames' first 41 contests, Kiprusoff has already racked up 25 victories. No goaltender has ever won 50 in a single season.

Kicking off that quest tonight with the St. Louis Blues visiting the Saddledome (7 p.m., Sportsnet) Kiprusoff is well-rested after four days between games.

"It was a good break," said the 32-year-old Finn. "To have some time with your family, it's always good.

"But when you're used to going every day so hard, it's tough to come back. Even after a couple of days off, it feels weird. You have to really concentrate to get your mind back into the game."

Kiprusoff practised before the annual skills competition, but sat out the actual spectacle, which favours shooters and fans over netminders.

He let newcomer Curtis Joseph do all the work in last year's competition, and allowed Curtis McElhinney to do the job Sunday.

"I don't know if Mac was too happy about that," said Kiprusoff. "But he did well."

Skipping it was probably a good idea if Kiprusoff is to challenge Martin Brodeur's record of 48 wins.

Former Calgary Flames goaltender Trevor Kidd dislocated a shoulder with the Florida Panthers during their 1999 skills competition.

The Flames can't risk that happening to their backstop.

"(The skills are) more for the players. They have the funny tricks," said Kiprusoff.

"As a goalie you always have to try. If you don't, they score all of them, so it's safer if you stay out."

McElhinney's reward for facing trick shots Sunday will likely be at least a few more starts in the second half, when a more compressed schedule hands the Flames some gruelling stretches and a handful of back-to-back games.

"He's definitely going to get some games in the second half," said Kiprusoff.

Just how many will depend on his own health.

The team essentially allows its No.-1 netminder to dictate when he takes nights off, although those haven't come often over the past few years.

"I'm used to it, and it's a challenge to be able to play a lot of games and be able to give the team a chance to win night after night," said Kiprusoff. "It's probably a little busier (in the second half), but we'll see how I feel and how I play. I've been playing quite a bit every year now since I've been here, so I'm kind of used to it.

"But you have to be smart with it. I have to listen to my body."

His body appears to be doing just fine after 39 appearances in the first three months of the season.

His mind is alright, too.

Allowing 23 goals against in the first five games, there was concern over Kiprusoff's mental approach as the Flames floundered to a 1-3-1 start in October. Currently, the biggest mystery is how neither Kiprusoff nor Evgeni Nabokov -- the two goaltenders with the most wins in the league as of yesterday -- will make it to this month's all-star game in Montreal.

"My mom has to get better with computers so she can vote for me more," Kiprusoff said with a laugh.

Of course, he'll be happy for the extra few days off.

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NET GAINS

Most NHL wins in a single season:

48 --Martin Brodeur, NJ (2006-07)

47 -- Roberto Luongo, Van (2006-07); Bernie Parent, Pha (1973-74)

46-- Evgeni Nabokov, SJ (2007-08)

-42 -- Miikka Kiprusoff, Cgy (2005-06)

-Multiple goalies with

44 and 43 wins, five tied with Kiprusoff at 42.


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