CALGARY – For the first time since he became a Calgary Flame almost decade ago, Miikka Kiprusoff faces an extended absence from Calgary’s net.
The 36-year-old goaltender, who has played 70-plus games for seven consecutive seasons, will be out of the lineup two more weeks in addition to the week he’s already missed with a sprained knee ligament.
The loss of their workhorse comes at a difficult time for the Flames this lockout-shortened season. Tied for last in the Western Conference at 3-4-3, Calgary will play eight games before Kiprusoff can realistically be expected to rejoin the lineup.
“Kipper’s not coming back for two more weeks,” Flames general manager Jay Feaster said Tuesday. “There’s an awful lot of time. We have a lot of games to play in the next two weeks.”
So Leland Irving has suddenly gone from Calgary’s No. 3 goalie in the minors to NHL starter.
The 24-year-old, drafted in the first round by Calgary in 2006, played only six games for the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat during the NHL lockout. But Irving beat out incumbent backup Henrik Karlsson for a job behind Kiprusoff at Calgary’s training camp in January.
Irving’s record is 1-1-1 since Kiprusoff was injured in the second period Feb. 5 in Detroit.
Kiprusoff’s injury was initially diagnosed as a Grade 1 sprain of his medial collateral ligament. Calgary’s franchise leader in games played and wins felt pain in his knee when he tested it Monday. His injury was upgraded to a “slight Grade 2 MCL sprain” following an MRI, said Feaster.
“It’s obviously not good news for Miikka and the team,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said. “That’s the way it goes. Leland is playing great. We’re going to keep riding Leland. He’s obviously playing very well for us. He’s building confidence.”
Irving’s six saves in the third period in Detroit preserved the win. In his three starts since, Calgary beat Columbus 4-3 in overtime, lost 5-1 to Vancouver and lost 2-1 in a shootout Monday to Minnesota. The Albertan’s save percentage for the Flames this season is .900 and his goals-against average is 2.62.
“From my perspective, the fact the number one goaltender is out, that ought to cause every guy in that room to raise their level that much higher,” Feaster said. “They ought to look at a kid like Leland Irving and say ‘This guy is busting his backside giving us a chance to win every game. How about if we step up and do our part?’
“Two weeks from now, we’ll know that we’re either in the pack or we’ve fallen terribly behind, but we’ll know it based on team play and not because of the play of one guy.”
Calgary has four games in six days starting Wednesday at home against Dallas.
Given Kiprusoff’s iron grip on the starting job, it’s unusual for the Flames No. 2 to have the prospect of multiple consecutive starts.
“It’s an opportunity is what it is,” Irving said. “We’ve just got to focus on winning right now. It’s a results-driven business. I’m going to do everything I can to prepare myself to give these guys a chance to win.”
Kiprusoff did not speak to reporters Tuesday. His regular dressing room stall was claimed by 33-year-old Joey MacDonald, whom Feaster claimed off waivers from Detroit the previous day.
Feaster had signed Abbotsford goalie Danny Taylor to an NHL contract the day after Kiprusoff was injured, so the addition of MacDonald made for four goalies under NHL contracts.
Feaster said he’d had his eye on MacDonald and his 101 games of NHL experience for some time. The GM pointed out that Taylor has yet to play a full NHL game and Irving’s start Monday was his ninth in the NHL.
“We felt pretty strongly about Joey MacDonald as an experienced veteran backup goaltender and that’s why we submitted the claim,” the GM explained.
“The one thing we can’t control in the game is when a team decides to put a player on waivers. If this player had been on waivers three weeks ago, we would have submitted a claim three weeks ago.”
Taylor was assigned to Abbotsford on Tuesday, but because the 26-year-old was under an NHL contract, the Ottawa native had to clear waivers first.
MacDonald, from Pictou, N.S., had an 8-5-1 record, a 2.16 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage for Detroit last season. He hasn’t played a game since March 14 because of a back injury.
His career record with Detroit, Boston, Toronto and the New York Islanders is 31-48-0-13 with a .903 save percentage and a 3.04 GAA. MacDonald said he was preparing to head to Detroit’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich., when he was placed on waivers.
“It was a quick turnaround, but I was excited,” MacDonald said. “I’m just going to come in here and give myself an opportunity to play. Practice is huge especially coming off a back injury like I was over the last year. Once I get the opportunity, give the team a chance to win.”
In other Flames developments, Feaster said forward Mike Cammalleri will play Wednesday against Dallas after sitting out three games with a hip flexor injury.
Forward Ben Street was re-assigned to Abbotsford and Paul Byron called up. Feaster said forward Sven Baertschi (hip flexor) was cleared to skate with the Flames, but not allowed to take contact. Forward Mikael Backlund (knee) remains out of the lineup for four to six weeks.