Records don't always translate into playoff success

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

It's true, Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff really could win 50 games this season and set a NHL record.

He has 27 victories as the team heads into tonight's clash at the Saddledome against the Phoenix Coyotes, and with 39 games left on the docket, that milestone is truly an attainable goal.

But it's not a smart one to chase.

As good as the Flames have been the past couple of months -- that 6-1 shellacking at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in the middle of November sure seems like a distant memory now, eh? -- they're not going to run the table the rest of the way.

It would take nearly a .600 winning percentage, without overtime and shootout losses to prop up that figure, just to do the job. That's feasible.

But the key for the Flames will be to ensure Kiprusoff is healthy enough for a potential playoff run.

For Kiprusoff to win 23 games the rest of the way, he'd simply have to play too many contests over the second half of the season to do it. At least more than he should.

No sense taking him out of a rhythm, so if he wants to hit the ice in the vast majority of those tilts, that's great, but it's not in the team's best interest heading into the playoffs to put the spurs to a goalie you're going to be relying upon heavily if you believe you have a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup.

Calgary has built a nice cushion on the rest of the Northwest Division -- nine points up on Vancouver with three games in hand, at least 11 on the rest.

It's not enough they can coast to the opening round with home-ice advantage and the No-3 seed yet, but the Flames should find the right gear to ensure they stay in that spot.

Unfortunately, it will take a bit of a miracle to finish in the top two and earn a higher seed, not with the way San Jose and Detroit win.

Therefore, it's paramount for Calgary to start giving more starts to backup Curtis McElhinney.

First off, he needs to get that all-important first career victory and the confidence that would come with it. Then he needs to actually have a chance to play with some consistency. The Flames need to see if he can be counted on, especially if he has to take the reins for a few games come playoffs -- as we've seen many teams in the past need their backups to stay alive.

Most importantly, the Flames need a fresh-as-possible Kiprusoff when the Cup chase begins. Wearing him out for victories over non-playoff teams such as St. Louis, Los Angeles and the like isn't worth a spot in the record books if the Flames are eliminated in the first round again.

FLAMING C-NOTES

Sticking with Kiprusoff, somewhat lost in the last couple of victories was how well he played. Against both St. Louis and San Jose, he didn't have to steal a game, but he is back in great form displayed by a handful of key saves at key times in both those wins ... For all the gnashing of teeth in Ottawa about their goaltending woes, it's amazing to see the Senators have a better teams goals-against average than the Flames. It won't stay that way for long, but sure seems odd ... Jarome Iginla's goal-scoring troubles -- two tallies in the last 12 games -- should be cause for concern. Not because he's not scoring so much as he's not generating scoring chances. The good news for Calgary is so many players are stepping up, but they'll absolutely need Iginla to be back to his old self down the road.

HOCKEY TALKY

Could we see this much turnover in the West? It's plausible four teams that missed the playoffs last season will be in the second season this time around. Looking like they will -- or at least could -- fall out of the picture are Minnesota, Dallas, Colorado and Nashville, with Chicago, Vancouver, Phoenix, Columbus and Edmonton vying to make it in -- and all standing a pretty good shot. That's what a salary cap system is supposed to do ... From the Elias Sports Bureau comes this note: New Jersey's Brendan Shanahan will set an NHL record for the longest gap between regular-season games with one team. Shanahan's last regular-season game with the Devils was March 31, 1991. As of yesterday, that was 6,501 days ago. The current mark is held by Randy Cunneyworth, who went 6,169 days between games for the Buffalo Sabres from December 1981 to November 1998. Wonder if Hakan Loob would want to come out of retirement for one swan song.

YOU DON'T SAY

"The politically correct thing that most coaches would say is that it's just like any other game, but it's absolutely not. It's absolutely personal. You get fired, you want to see that team lose every game for the next 10 years."

-- Former Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice before returning to Toronto with his Carolina Hurricanes. The Leafs won 6-4.


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