SUN Hockey Pool

Nettin' but wins for Kipper

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Seemingly every autumn, Miikka Kiprusoff has been forced to talk about his early season struggles.

You'd think he'd be thrilled to discuss his performance to begin this campaign.

Guess again.

Asked if he wanted to talk about the difference between this year and seasons past, the Flames netminder replied, "No," before sporting a wry grin.

He was just teasing, but you could understand if he feared jinxing things.

After all, you don't mess with a winning streak.

But maybe Kiprusoff believes he's playing no differently than other Octobers, only with different results.

Or perhaps it's a matter of believing he still has a long way to go before rounding into form.

Exhibit A for that argument was the second-period goal Tomas Plekanec scored Tuesday night in Calgary's 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Kiprusoff anticipated Plekanec would throw the puck to the front of the net from a sharp angle but was beat by a short-side backhander.

"Yeah, I made a bad read there," Kiprusoff said. "Usually, a leftie will throw it at the feet (of the players in front of the net). He totally surprised me. I made the wrong read."

Still, that was a heck of a shot -- a no-look, back-hander just inside the post. He may not put that in the net again with nine more tries.

"That's what I try to tell myself, too," Kiprusoff said.

"I've got to stop those. Good thing we were able to come back and win the game after that goal."

A big reason for that was Kiprusoff's third-period performance, which has become a trend this season.

Over the course of three games this season, the Flames have surrendered 45 shots on goal in the final frame. Kiprusoff has surrendered only two goals in third-period play.

"I don't think he was excited about the third goal against (Montreal), and you almost got the sense a pea wasn't going by him after that," said goalie coach Jamie McLennan. "He knows what he should stop and what he shouldn't.

"It was a great shot, but a goal he'd like back. But there were saves after that that were great timely saves, and I think he's been great at that, making the saves when the team's needed it."

Such as the stops he made on Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta in the final period the other night.

Or the reach-back denial against Henrik Sedin in the season-opener against the Vancouver Canucks.

Through three games, Kiprusoff has a 3.00 goals-against average, which is a little higher than he'd like.

However, the three wins and .915 save-percentage are right on course. Especially when you consider last season he allowed 15 goals in the first three games.

"I don't see much difference in his game, other than he's really focused on the details of his game in practice," McLennan said. "Brent (Sutter) has instilled that in not just Miikka but all the players here. It's accountability, and Miikka's done a good job of stepping up."

Just think what will happen when the Flames fully grasp the defensive system implemented by Sutter and the rest of the coaching staff.

After all, you know they won't allow an average of 15 shots in the third period over the course of the season.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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