OTTAWA — There’s a reason no Calgary Flames goaltender other than Miikka Kiprusoff has started back-to-back games over the last six years.
He’s one of the world’s best goaltenders.
“Top three in the world,” said Flames goalie coach Jamie McLennan, who happens to be the last netminder not nicknamed Kipper to suit up in consecutive contests back in February of 2004, when Kiprusoff was out with a sprained knee.
“Probably the strongest mental athlete I’ve ever met.”
That’s why his coaches and teammates aren’t worried about the fact their starter has had a few bad games.
Henrik Karlsson may start Friday against the Ottawa Senators — head coach Brent Sutter isn’t saying, but the feeling is they’ll go to the backup and come back with Kiprusoff Saturday against the Maple Leafs in Toronto — but it doesn’t sound like the starter’s long streak is in jeopardy.
“I think there’s way too much made out of that. Miikka Kiprusoff is your No. 1 goaltender, he’s your starter, and you play him and you ride him as much as you can,” said Sutter, who has been troubled by some weak goals allowed by his top ’tender the last few games.
“But you’ve got to be intelligent.”
Giving him enough rest and having him work on his technique with McLennan, Sutter seems to be leaning towards Karlsson for the next game, but he has made it clear that as long as the Flames are in the playoff hunt, Kiprusoff is his go-to guy.
“He is your No.-1 goaltender, and he’s going to carry the workload.”
Known for bouncing back from bad performances, the string of three straight games with at least one questionable goal against Kiprusoff has been troubling for a team desperate for wins to avoid falling further behind in the playoff race.
“I don’t know if it’s a weak point of my career if I have a couple of not that good games. That happens for every goalie,” Kiprusoff said Thursday after being swarmed by the media in the visitors locker-room following practice at Scotiabank Place.
“Of course, I’m not happy with that, but I feel good that I’m good to play. I just have to bounce back. I feel I’m capable to do that.”
He’s done it in the past.
The team needs him to do it now — whenever it is he gets his next opportunity.
Kiprusoff isn’t the type to lobby a coach for a start, but he knows he’s coming off an especially bad game, allowing four goals on eight shots before being pulled in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Hurricanes in Carolina Tuesday.
“I’ve never done that. I’ve never been a goalie that says I want to play next game.
“I always leave decisions to them,” Kiprusoff said. “Every goalie wants to play.
“I definitely had a bad game against Carolina there. It happens.
“I had a good practice today and looking forward to play the next one.”
Sutter will tell him when that will be.
And despite having some harsh words about his starter earlier this week, he made a point of clarifying to reporters he isn’t blaming Kiprusoff for the last three losses.
“It wasn’t where I was directly pointing a finger at a certain person or why we lost a hockey game,” Sutter said.
“My point was Miikka knows he needs to be better, and we all know he can be better, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him get through that.”
McLennan says the plan is pretty simple.
“He’s gotta continue to work hard,” he said. “And he’s going to.”