Karlsson nets respect

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:30 PM ET

Had Henrik Karlsson received the same attention countryman Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson had before arriving in North America, maybe his Calgary Flames teammates would have at least known something about him.

But Karlsson was a name completely out of the blue.

All they knew prior to training camp was the goalie was very tall at 6-foot-5, had success in his homeland, was acquired from the San Jose Sharks for a draft pick and signed to a one-way US$500,000 contract.

Which means the netminder had to not only prove to the organization those were the right decisions but win over his new teammates.

He’s done a great job so far.

“You want to prove yourself when you come to a new team, and I worked really, really hard to have as good a start as possible,” Karlsson said after yet another solid pre-season performance in Friday’s win over the Edmonton Oilers.

“I’m pretty happy. I think it’s getting better and better.”

The numbers back Karlsson’s feelings.

He’s started three games, played eight periods and allowed just two goals, having stopped 51 of 53 shots.

That adds up to a 0.75 goals-against average and .962 save percentage with three wins.

“He’s a big body and controls rebounds well for a young guy. He’s getting better with the puck, and his communication is decent,” said Flames defenceman Steve Staios. “I’m happy to play in front of him.”

Especially if Karlsson keeps it going.

The Flames have been searching for a backup to Miikka Kiprusoff for what seems an eternity but haven’t been able to find somebody since the star netminder took the reins from Roman Turek in the 2003-04 season.

Karlsson has made a strong case with his performances. As much as players want to believe in netminders, especially backups, and will publicly state their faith, they don’t really believe it until the goalie does the job.

Case in point, Friday’s win.

On the surface, a 5-1 win in which he’s stopped 20 shots wouldn’t seem like a big performance between the pipes.

However, the players noticed key saves after the Flames fell behind 1-0, which allowed them to come back.

“Also, when we were up 3-1,” said captain Jarome Iginla. “They had a turnaround of momentum and could have made it 3-2, but shortly after, we made it 4-1.

“He’s been very sharp and very confident.

Added head coach Brent Sutter: “He got really in sync the last 30 or 35 minutes (against the Oilers). It seemed like when our bench got short, he was stellar.”

Karlsson said those turning-point saves were important to him, especially because his team has done a good job of limiting chances against.

“I play for a terrific team with super defence, so I have to be focused the whole game because there’s going to be some chances and I have to be ready,” Karlsson said.

The way he has been so far.

“When you see a young goalie, you expect a soft goal once in a while or maybe he’ll mishandle the puck,” Staios said. “But he hasn’t shown any of that. He’s going to improve handling the puck — that’s such a big part of the game — but everything else is pretty solid.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak


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