The big headline entering the season for the Calgary Flames was the addition of free agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, and a new emphasis on defense with defensive minded coach Brent Sutter taking the vacated helm behind the bench.
There were a lot of unanswered questions in the Flames camp, such as where the production of offense would come from other than Jarome Iginla, especially with the loss of free agent Michael Cammalleri to the Canadiens, and how the Flames would play under new head coach Brent Sutter. But one of the biggest question marks was the play of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Wins are/were never a problem for the Finn, but after his breakout season in the Flames 2003-04 cup run and his Vezina trophy (awarded to the leagues best goaltender) winning campaign in 2005-06 his stats steadily declined—until this season.
Nearing the midpoint of the season there’s little argument that Kiprusoff is Calgary's MVP thus far. As of December 15 he is fourth in the league posting a .928 SV% and fifth in the league with his 2.18 GAA.
One big criticism of former Flames coach Mike Keenan was that he rode Kiprusoff too much, and was reluctant to give young back-up Curtis McElhinney any of the work load. A reason given when trying to explain Calgarys postseason failures post lockout was the burning out of Miikka Kiprusoff.
This was something Brent Sutter was too avoid-but hasn't thus far. Kipper played 76 games each season the past two seasons Keenan was in charge. With B.Sutter behind the bench this season the Finnish goaltender is on pace for about 73 games. Miikka is a workhorse and is said to thrive in playing a lot of games, but there's such a thing as too many starts.
Not only is he playing a lot of games (sometimes on back to back nights), a trend has emerged in Calgary, and a surprising one with a new focus on defense and with a core of Phaneuf, Regher and Jay Bo. In 33 games this season, the Flames have been outshot in 22 of them.
With Calgarys heavy reliance on Kipper, and the amount of shots he has been seeing night in and night out, there’s no reason to not consider the chances he will tire out like previous seasons and not perform his best in the postseason.
But if there’s one guarantee, it's this. If Miikka Kiprusoff carries the kind of form he has been showing thus far into the postseason there is no reason the Flames aren't playing for Lord Stanley's Cup come June.
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