Considering how much was made of the relationship between Miikka Kiprusoff and Mike Keenan (and frankly, the fuss was completely out of proportion with reality) Brent Sutter’s dealings with the veteran Calgary netminder will be under scrutiny.
It was notable then that, on the eve of main camp, the new skipper made this declaration: “It’s a tough league for a goaltender to play that many games in. Especially with the amount of travel that there is out in the Western Conference. I’m not using that as an excuse at all. But facts are facts. So again, we’ll just monitor it and see what happens. But at this point in time, I certainly wouldn’t expect him to play as many games as he has.”
Sutter’s remarks are interesting because the one season in New Jersey he had a No. 1 goalie at his disposal for the entire year, Martin Brodeur played 77 games, which is a lot even if the Devils don’t have the same travel issues as the Flames. Also, during Sutter’s final season at the helm of the Red Deer Rebels juniors, he used his starter 60 times in a 72-game schedule.
Also, there isn’t that much evidence that Kiprusoff’s problems have anything to do with wear and tear.
During Keenan’s two years at the reins in Calgary, Kiprusoff’s cumulative regular-season numbers in October and November consisted of a 3.01 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage. The corresponding figures in March and April for those two years are 2.95 and .900. Remember also that the 2008-09 Flames were beat up and playing shorthanded at the end of the season, which compounded any issues Kiprusoff was having on his own.
It just seems too convenient to explain away the late-season woes as fatigue when no satisfactory explanation can be found for Kiprusoff’s declining play in other portions of the calendar.
The other part of the equation is that you need a good backup option and no recent Flames bench boss has seemed especially confident in Plan B whether the No. 2 goalie has been named McLennan, Sauve, Boucher or McElhinney. Curtis Joseph’s half-season under Keenan is about the only instance of a coach having some degree of faith in the non-Finnish netminding option.
Even if the Flames take a damn-the-torpedoes approach and try to work in the backup more often while viewing any points gained in those games as gravy, what if Kiprusoff continues to post poor numbers even with a reduced workload? You’ll forgive Calgary fans if they refuse to think about that possibility, especially with all the miles and dollars remaining on Kiprusoff’s contract.