SUN Hockey Pool

Kipper still key in Calgary

ERIC FRANCIS, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 PM ET

Fans and experts around the league had plenty of reasons to question the Calgary Flames’ playoff chances as the trade deadline came and went.

They still do.

However, the credibility of several national broadcasters disappeared during deadline coverage when they went as far as to question the effectiveness and stability of Miikka Kiprusoff based, most likely, on one bad (er, horrific) period at the Olympics.

Fact is, Kiprusoff is the reason the Flames are even in a playoff race. If not for Kiprusoff’s brilliance the Calgary Flames would be, well, the Edmonton Oilers.

While it’s unlikely many out east are considering adding Kiprusoff to their Vezina Trophy ballot, the fact is he’s arguably the league’s most valuable goaltender this season. Before scoffing, consider the numbers.

While much has been made about Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller being the Vezina Trophy favourite, many might be surprised to learn Kiprusoff’s stats are almost identical. Entering play last night, Miller had a 2.21 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and 33 wins.

Kiprusoff has a 2.22 GAA, a .923 save percentage and

30 wins despite the fact only two teams in the NHL (Boston and Edmonton) have offered their goaltenders less support by scoring fewer goals than Calgary.

Although it’s close, Kiprusoff’s numbers are better than other Vezina candidates such as Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov (2.25, .922), San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov (2.37, .924), Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (2.32, .924) and Colorado’s Craig Anderson (2.47 .923).

New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur may lead the league with 39 wins but his GAA is 2.35 and his save percentage is .914. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo is at 2.45 and .915.

For a hint of just how bad things would be without him, consider how the Flames did when Curtis McElhinney was in net, offering opponents a full goal more per game.

For even more evidence, consider the 28th-ranked Flames have scored just one more goal than the Oilers this season. The 14-win difference separating the two Alberta clubs is best explained by the Oilers’ inexperienced netminders surrendering

71 more goals than the Flames have. Thus, one is vying for a playoff spot and the other vying for the first pick overall this summer.

Say what you want about the faltering Flames this season, but don’t lump Kiprusoff in with the rest of the bunch. The former Vezina winner is once again as good as the league has to offer.

But because the Flames have struggled and are rarely seen by eastern viewers, few will give him the credit (or likely the Vezina consideration) he deserves.

Shame.

Known over the years for bouncing back as well as anyone following a rare bad outing, Kiprusoff did just that after the Olympics, winning three starts in a row before consecutive losses in which he was a star against Detroit and simply brilliant in Vancouver where the Canucks might have been up 7-0 (instead of 3-0) if not for his first period heroics before being mercifully yanked.

Frustrated Flames fans who suggest the club needs to be blown up by trading Jarome Iginla and Kiprusoff should be careful as you’ve seen first-hand the last handful of years how crucial it is to build from the goalie out.

Without Kiprusoff, the Flames’ 2004 playoff run never would have happened and the subsequent prosperity (regular season, anyway) wouldn’t have been as fruitful. After years of seeing his numbers slip, Kiprusoff has quietly pieced together one of his finest seasons.

So quietly, the talking heads have yet to notice.

eric.francis

@sunmedia.ca


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