SUN Hockey Pool

Irving worth a shot

Flames goaltender Leland Irving during a stoppage in play in a pre-season game against the Oilers...

Flames goaltender Leland Irving during a stoppage in play in a pre-season game against the Oilers at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., Sep. 24, 2011. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:49 AM ET

CALGARY - An injury to Calgary Flames goalie Henrik Karlsson is not a positive.

However, itís an opportunity for the Flames to get a true read on what Leland Irving can possibly achieve.

Letís hope the Flames give Irving a legitimate shot to strut his stuff.

Irving, the teamís 2006 first-round draft choice, received the long-awaited summons from the minors Monday after backup netminder Henrik Karlsson was placed on the injured list due to a sprained MCL suffered in Sundayís 5-1 loss to the host Vancouver Canucks.

ďIím extremely excited for the opportunity ó itís one of those things where youíve got to be patient and be ready when the time comes,Ē Irving said shortly after arriving in Calgary from Chicago, where the Heat ended a road trip. ďIt hasnít been easy getting here, but itís just a start.Ē

Itís been far from easy for Irving to make an NHL roster.

The 23-year-old netminder from Swan Hills, Alta., turned pro in 2008-09 and spent the last three-plus seasons in the minor ranks.

After struggling through the 2009-10 season, split between the AHL Abbotsford Heat and the ECHLís Victoria Salmon Kings, the pressure was put upon him to take the starting job in the AHL or else.

Heís responded in a positive way. Last season, Irving was named Heat MVP by posting a 30-24-2 record with eight shutouts a 2.30 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

Heís carried that play into this season (2.30 GAA, .914%) to go with a 15-7 record.

Although the odd night is far from perfect, Irvingís play has become more consistent.

ďThe main thing thatís helped me is tracking the puck better,Ē said the onetime star of the WHLís Everett Silvertips. ďIt sounds real simple, but following the puck right into my glove or off my blocker or off my stick ó becoming more efficient ó made a really big difference in my game.Ē

Whether he gets a chance to prove he can take his game to the NHL level remains to be seen.

The Flames are on the cusp of falling too far out of the playoff picture to have any hope, and their schedule over the next couple of weeks could allow No. 1 netminder Miikka Kiprusoff to play almost every game leading up to Christmas. However, in a season the team has made a concerted effort to inject youth into the lineup with the likes of forwards Paul Byron and Roman Horak and defencemen T.J. Brodie, Derek Smith and Joe Piskula, it seems right Irving receive a real chance.

Karlsson has all kinds of support from the organization, yet he has posted a career record of 4-9-7. Heís done little to prove he can be the netminder for the torch to be passed from veteran Kiprusoff.

Thereís no proof Irving can wrestle away the No. 2 job in the organization, but he at least deserves the chance.

After all, Irving had the option to sign with teams in Europe last season but inked a two-way contract with the Flames with the knowledge Karlsson had been handed a two-year, one-way deal with the big club worth US$1.725 million. Heís put his faith in the organization.

(That begs the question: If Irving can win games for the Flames, will the organization put Karlsson and his NHL salary in the minors? With a one-way contract, that means the large goalie can be sent down to Heat but would still make the aforementioned big salary)

Irving isnít even sure heíll see any game action with the Flames.

ďIf have no idea,Ē Irving said. ďWeíll just take it a day at a time. Iím going to prepare myself for whatever opportunity comes about.Ē

This has been a year the Flames finally gave new blood legitimate shots at being NHL players. Itís time they see what the future holds between the pipes.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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