SUN Hockey Pool

Kipper still holds net value

Miikka Kiprusoff. Photo by Ben Plosse/QMI Agency

Miikka Kiprusoff. Photo by Ben Plosse/QMI Agency

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 PM ET

You won’t find Miikka Kiprusoff on the NHL’s top-10 list for goals-against average.

Nor is the Calgary Flames netminder in such select company for save percentage or shutouts. He is among the leaders in wins but part of a big logjam of those with seven.

It doesn’t matter to the Flames. Not the way Kiprusoff has been a difference maker this season.

“In our minds, he’s the best goalie in the league — that’s how we feel about him,” said Flames centre Olli Jokinen after the clbu’s Saturday night 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.

Certainly those teams who have benefited and enjoyed the performances of Nikolai Khabibulin, Kari Lehtonen, Jimmy Howard, Josh Harding, Marc-Andre Fleury and Tim Thomas — just to name a few goalies off to hot starts this season — may want to argue and certainly have worthy cases, but Kiprusoff’s efforts can’t be overlooked.

Unlike most every other goalie in the league, Kiprusoff is again shining bright despite his team’s offensive woes. Only three teams have scored fewer goals on average than the Flames, who have a 7-8-1 record going into Tuesday’s home-ice clash with the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m., Saddledome).

For his part, Kiprusoff has been named a star in four of the team’s victories. Inexplicably, he wasn’t in the latest against the Avalanche despite his brilliant 36-save outing during which he withstood a constant barrage of action in the second half of the game and was relied upon heavily until the final buzzer.

Don’t let Kipper’s laid-back demeanour fool you — it takes extreme competitiveness to hold the fort the way he did against the Avalanche.

“Yeah, he wants to win. He wants to bring his best every night. He’s been doing that every night this year,” Jokinen said. “It gives us confidence every night to have a goalie like that back there.”

Kiprusoff was under the gun when this season started. Having turned 35 late last month and with a contract which concludes after the 2013-14 season, questions abounded if the workhorse netminder could maintain the high standard of play he’s shown ever since arriving in the Stampede City in mid-November eight years ago.

His up-and-down 2010-11 campaign did little to battle those who figured the Flames should be looking to trade him before his play tailed off completely.

Kiprusoff finished strong last season, but his 2.63 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage were hardly at the level folks in Calgary have come to expect — especially after his performance the year before, when Kiprusoff was so good, the Flames were in a playoff fight despite an anemic offensive attack.

The offensive struggles of 2009-10 seem to have returned to the Flames, but so has Kiprusoff’s play.

In fact, after backstopping his team over the Avalanche, Kiprusoff’s average (2.31) and save percentage (.923) are almost exactly the same as they were following the 2009-10 season.

“He’s been as good as his Vezina year, for sure,” Flames said captain Jarome Iginla. “I think the rest has been important for him — he seems to like it. Henrik Karlsson’s gone in and played really well, our goaltending has been outstanding, and Miikka seems fresh when he’s playing.”

There must be something to that theory, since Kiprusoff isn’t in the top-10 for minutes played so far this season, which is not the norm.

For his part, Kiprusoff — who is the franchise’s all-time winningest netminder — doesn’t like talking about his play. Sure, he knows he’s been strong, but with his team on the outside of a playoff spot, the Finnish netminder doesn’t see anything to boast about.

“I feel all right, but if you look at the team, we can’t be that happy where we’re at in the standings,” Kiprusoff said. “I have to do my job, and we have to keep getting better.”

He’s doing that. It’s up to his teammates not to waste that calibre of goalkeeping.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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