Say what you want about unfortunate deflections, screens and a lack of strong defence in front of him, Kiprusoff isn’t stealing points for his team the way he has in the past. He’s costing them some.
Flames head coach Brent Sutter is holding his star goaltender accountable, and there’s a good chance backup Henrik Karlsson gets the start Friday against the Ottawa Senators. If he plays well and wins, maybe Karlsson goes again the next night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
“Kipper is obviously a very good goaltender but right now he’s fighting it,” Sutter said after the 6-5 shootout loss to the Hurricanes Tuesday night in Carolina.
He left his five-hole wide open on a backhander from Eric Staal that gave the Canes a two-goal cushion early in the second period and was yanked in favour of Karlsson after allowing a fourth puck to get past him on eight shots.
Other suspect goals this week included a pair of wrist shots by Detroit Red Wings defenceman Brian Rafalski and another from Vancouver Canucks blueliner Kevin Bieksa. All three of those games ended with losses, despite stretches where the Flames clearly outplayed their opponents.
Maybe the rest will help him. The Flames had Wednesday off as they travelled from Carolina to the nation’s capital.
“Too many easy goals,” Sutter said Tuesday. “It’s bothersome.”
It doesn’t bode well for the Flames’ already slim chances of making the playoffs.
They need practically perfect netminding to make a serious push. They need the 2006 Vezina winner to be back on top of his game. The man who was informally nicknamed Gumby, as much for his ability to bounce back after losses as for his flexibility, hasn’t been spotted for a while.
Kiprusoff’s 16 wins had him tied for 11th among NHL netminders as of Wednesday afternoon. Only two goalies have started more than his 36 games.
He’s on pace for his lowest win total since he was a part-timer in 2003-04 — worse than last year’s 35, which marked the first time since the lockout his Flames have watched playoffs on TV rather than participating in them.
Offensively, he’s not getting much in the way of support, and the Finn has faced the ninth-most shots of any goaltender this year.
But his 2.73 goals-against average slots him in 29th, and his .901 doesn’t even rank in the top 30. And on top of the all-too-often overstated statistics, his timing has been awful.
There’s never a good time to let a puck past you, but there’s definitely a bad time — Rafalski’s wobbler from afar late in the third period to force extra time in the Flames’ shootout loss to Detroit last week, and Staal’s slowball to put the ’Canes ahead by a pair after twice climbing back from one-goal gaps.
It’s time Kiprusoff started making some clutch saves again. If he doesn’t, the Flames are in for a long second half of the season and an early spring.
That’s if the veteran goalie hasn’t already mentally checked out.