The Calgary Flames sure had better know how fortunate they are.
So should the Vancouver Canucks.
They have something most of the other teams in the Western Conference can’t brag about.
Not just a guy between the pipes wearing the equipment. We’re talking about a game-saving, game-changing goalie.
Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff may not have a Stanley Cup on his resume, but when push comes to shove, the Flames know they count on him.
Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo is close to the same, although he’s having some struggles. That gold-medal win at the Olympics helps his cause, because he’s long been questioned about having the ability to win “the big one”.
Do you think the San Jose Sharks feel the same about Evgeni Nabokov? How about Chicago with its duo of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi?
Nashville’s Pekka Rinne? Detroit’s Jimmy Howard? Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles? Craig Anderson in Colorado?
Those teams may say the don’t doubt their netminders, but for varying reasons, they can’t be quite sure.
Phoenix has received a great season from Ilya Bryzgalov, to the point he should receive as much consideration as Buffalo’s Ryan Miller for any awards, but even he can be erratic.
One thing which will make this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs very interesting is the goaltending picture, especially among the front-runners.
Chicago’s netminding has not yet proven it won’t be the downfall. Nabokov has struggled horribly since the Olympic tournament shellacking he took against Canada.
In the Eastern Conference, Washington’s goalies scare nobody, especially when you consider all the scoring chances the Capitals surrender.
Goaltending has always been the great equalizer.
In the case of so many teams, it may be the downfall.
For all those who say it’s Brent Sutter’s coaching to blame for the Flames being among the lowest scoring teams in the league, how do they explain the New Jersey Devils from last season to this campaign? The Devils were in the middle of the league in goals per game under Sutter and are down to 22nd this year. Their star players are way down in production, too ... Former Flame Curtis McElhinney can play an even bigger part in Calgary’s playoff fortunes than just helping the Anaheim Ducks beat Colorado Wednesday night. With Jonas Hiller nursing hip and back problems, the Ducks may have to rely on McElhinney the rest of the way, which includes a pair of games against Los Angeles ... Are Flames fans ready to cheer for Edmonton even more often? The Oilers play host to Colorado April 7 and are at the Kings April 10, so they could have a big hand in whether the Flames can catch a team ... It’s fine and dandy for Flames fans to look at the Eastern Conference standings and say, “If our team was there, we’d be be in the playoffs.” It’s not cool for the organization to do the same.
The Hart Trophy talk starting to really gain steam these days surrounds Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin, and is warranted. Should Sedin win the scoring race, it’s worth more than Alex Ovechkin when you consider the tougher opposition the Canucks face on a regular basis compared to the Capitals square off against ... Speaking of the Capitals, their risk-reward game may work in the regular season, but it’s hard to imagine all those cross-ice passes won’t bite them in the playoffs. Really quick teams will be able to take advantage of that kind of defence ... That said, after watching the Caps play the Flames last weekend, I was more impressed with how tough Mike Green plays than his offensive skills ... Amazing to think Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Jay Pandolfo have all been on the Devils teams which made the playoffs each of the last 13 seasons ... In what would seem an un-Sutter stat, Carolina’s Brandon Sutter — yes, the son of Flames head coach Brent Sutter — reached the 20-goal mark and has just two penalty minutes. His lone infaction is a hooking penalty Dec. 18.