So says his agent, Ritch Winter, via Twitter:
My opinion of best goalie in Alberta – Leland Irving. But he’s a client. Better than .940 Sv% outside Bruin gm and points in all other games.
Now, to be fair, Irving is coming off a pretty nice game last night against Phoenix, stopping 33 of 35 shots. Vintage Flame shone the spotlight on the young goaltender in his post-game write-up, making some of the same points that Winter would make this morning:
The first goal he let in wasn’t great but he really buckled down and played a solid game. Stopping 34 of 36 shots in his first game since the Boston blow-out, he showed great composure and was steady all night long. Every time Irving steps in the crease he is making it a harder decision for the Flames as to who should be Kiprusoff’s back-up. Aside from the Beantown game, even when Leland loses, he manages to get the Flames a point, something Karlsson has hardly been able to do this season. Undoubtedly, Irving is showing he is ready for the NHL and is proving he deserves his shot.
When we look at Irving’s five-game stint in Calgary – if we ignore the Bruins game – we see a lot of good things. The game against Phoenix. Forty-five saves against Ottawa. Twenty-nine saves and just one goal allowed against Vancouver. Then, going back to his first appearance against Florida, 39 stops on 41 shots in an overtime loss.
While it’s difficult to look at five games and make the leap that Irving is better than Kiprusoff – the leap Winter seems to be making – there’s no denying that Irving’s done a very good job for the most part when called on. Given that Henrik Karlsson isn’t regarded as especially essential and backup goalies are a dime a dozen, there’s probably a case to be made that Irving should be the number two guy on the depth chart even if Karlsson were healthy and on the NHL roster. That’s a decision the Flames will be forced to make soon.
Irving’s performance has to count as a pleasant surprise for the Flames, given that his AHL track record is solid but unspectacular. Kent Wilson, writing about Irving’s original call-up, pointed to the bulk of his career work as a reason to keep expectations reasonable:
It will be interesting to see how [Irving] fares, but expectations for the youngster should be muted: his reuslts in the "A" have been good but not great and if he follows the long-path to the NHL (assuming he ever becomes a starter at all), he’s probably at least two years away from truly making the leap.
Given that we’re talking about five games and studiously overlooking the Boston catastrophe in assessing Irving, I think there’s a lot of truth to what Kent said at the time, and I think it applies just as well today. Despite the recent run, there isn’t a ton of daylight between Karlsson and Irving career-wise, and with Irving the better long-term prospect, there’s also a case for sending him back to Abbotsford.
Personally, I’d be very tempted to risk Karlsson on waivers and hang on to Irving, however. Development is all well and good but the Flames are in a tooth and nail fight for one of the last two spots in the Western Conference playoff race. Irving’s hot, and Karlsson’s coming back from injury. While we all know that Kiprusoff is going to get the bulk of the starts the rest of the way in any case – as he should, given the season he’s having – every point is vital and it’s hard to imagine the Flames not going with the option that gives them the best chance to win.
Right now, that option looks like Irving rather than Karlsson.