Takin' a T/O With BT: The Calgary Flames' Stretch-Run Conundrum

xx yySenior Writer IJanuary 14, 2009


Every team in every sport craves it, and word on the street is you can't get anywhere without it.

When team's start to lose games late, it's because they don't have enough depth. If they aren't scoring enough, they need to add some scoring depth. Teams that win have depth. Last year the Detroit Red Wings had depth.

Newflash: They've got more this year and are still winning. Looks like the San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins—both have eight players with 25 or more points—have got depth as well.

75% of moves made at trading deadlines throughout professional sport are made for "depth" purposes.

Granted that stat may not (and probably isn't) true, but we all know that the 'D' word is a hot topic as the season begins to wind down and teams begin to look at their options with regards to "stocking the cupboard" for a playoff run.

Every fan knows that the key to a deep playoff run is a hot goalie more often than not. The Anaheim Ducks had it in 2003 when Jean-Sebastien Giguere carried them to the finals against the New Jersey Devils, the Carolina Hurricanes had it when Cam Ward took them to their only Stanley Cup title 2006, and the Red Wings even benefited from it last year when their stellar team-oriented defense paired with Chris Osgood (went 14-4, with a goals-against of 1.55) to take them to yet another championship.

This year's instalment of the Calgary Flames—a team seven points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks' for first in the Northwest division—though, may not have the luxury of a hot goalie if Miikka Kiprusoff keeps up his current pace.

At this point in the season, the Flames have played 42 games, winning 26 of them.  Of those 42 games Kiprusoff, Kiprusoff has appeared in 40 of them.

Of those 26 wins, Kiprusoff has—you guessed it—all 26.

While many other goalies have won a majority of their team's games (coming as close as one), no other goalie has won all of a team's games.

Kipper has also appeared in 95% of Calgary's games, a percentage which is unmatched by any goalie in the league aside from Dallas' Marty Turco who's played in 93% of Dallas' games.

Across the league, there are currently only a handful of goalies who have appeared in 70 games consistently. Last year Evgeni Nabokov, Kiprusoff, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, and Martin Brodeur saw action in 70 games. The year before, Andrew Raycroft joined the group, while Nabokov and Miller were out. In 2005/06 it was simply Luongo, Brodeur, and Kiprusoff.

While that club is exclusive, there are even fewer goalies who can perform consistently. Brodeur could do it, posting 40 or more wins in each of those seasons, a goals-against below 2.20 twice (2006/07 and 2007/08) and a save percentage at or above .920 in those same seasons.

Luongo won at least 35 games in each season, and turned in three consistent, straight-forward performances (including a solid 2005/06 season spent in Florida).

Kiprusoff—the only other consistent member of this club—has been a little less fortunate.

In 2005/06 Kiprusoff won a career-high 42 games, helped by a .923 save percentage and a 2.07 goals-against average. He was second in the league in wins, fourth in saves, and led the league in goals-against average. All of this in 74 games.

The following year, Kipper's workload didn't change, but his stats did. His goals-against jumped nearly 40 points, and his save percentage went from .923 to .917. He also won two fewer games.

The trend didn't stop. By the time 2007/08 had finished, Miikka had played in two more games (76) than the past two years, won fewer games (albeit only one fewer in 39) than the year before, and his goals-against (2.69) and save percentage (.906) suffered two more jumps.

This year, while Kiprusoff is on pace for career-highs in games played (78) and wins (50), he's also the current holder of a 2.79 GAA and a .903 save percentage.

While many say that it's winning games that matters, it's hard to win games when it matters if you're last line of defense is battling a bad case of fatigue.

Case in point the Flames' past three playoff appearances: A 7-game loss to the Anaheim Ducks in 2005/06, a 6-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings the following season, and another 7-game loss to the San Jose Sharks last season.

Seventh seed or division winner, neither Kiprusoff or the Flames have played well enough the past three years to make the second round.

While changes have been made to the team around Kiprusoff, perhaps it's a contingency plan between the pipes the the Flames should be eyeing.

Over the course of this season, Curtis Mcelhinney has played in four games, relieving Kiprusoff twice. In many ways, he's like former teammate Curtis Joseph.

Mcelhinney's four games, for the most part, have been fairly spaced out this season.

After receiving his first start on November 8th (a loss against Columbus), Mcelhinney relieved Kiprusoff after a four-goal first period against the San Jose Sharks.

A month later he started against Detroit (an overtime loss), and then relieved Miikka another month later (January 4th) in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

At least it's going better than last year (so far) when he was replaced by the aforementioned Joseph as Kiprusoff's backup. Jamie McLennan (Kiprusoff's backup in 2006/07) and the combo of Phillipe Sauve and Brian Boucher didn't fair so well either.

The closer and closer the playoffs get though, the less likely it seems that Kiprusoff will get much, if any time off from Head Coach Mike Keenan, leaving one to wonder if a fourth-straight first round disappointment is in the cards for Calgary if their main man is burnt-out come April.

After all, the last two teams to make a Stanley Cup final with backup goalies who didn't see action in at least 25 games? The 2002/03 New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Mighty Ducks: Jean-Sebastien Giguere played in 65 games compared to backup Ilya Bryzgalov's 22, and Cup winner Martin Brodeur played in 62 more games than backup Corey Schwab, who only played in 11 games.

More playing time? Just the words Curtis Mcelhinney wanted to hear.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.



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