CALGARY – The Calgary Flames have said it before and they’re saying it again: goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff needs to play less than 70 regular-season games to keep him fresh.
Saying it is one thing. The Flames haven’t managed to do it in recent years.
Kiprusoff, who turned 35 last week, has played in more than 70 games for six straight seasons and won no less than 35 games per. Six consecutive 30-win seasons ties him for fourth on the NHL’s all-time list.
If captain Jarome Iginla is the heart and soul of the Flames, then Kiprusoff is the club’s backbone.
The NHL’s Vezina Trophy winner in 2006 is a difference-maker in Calgary’s bid to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The Flames also need their star goalie to have reserves in the tank if they get there.
Plans to spell the Finn in more games went out the window the last two seasons. Calgary desperately rode their workhorse down the stretch in a failed attempt to make the post-season.
The plan for 2011-2012 is again to sit Kiprusoff for a few more games in favour of the backup. Henrik Karlsson started two of the Calgary’s first nine games so far this season, suffering one loss and an overtime loss.
Flames head coach Brent Sutter indicated Monday that he’d like to play Karlsson two out of every 10 games this season, which would put Kiprusoff on pace for 65.
“I’d like it to be under 70,” Sutter said. “A lot of it is going to depend on different circumstances, but we’d certainly like to stay to the course that we’ve set forth on.
“As you get deeper into the season and deeper into the schedule, your record does impact certain things. If you can manage it right, you’re looking at 16- to 20-game schedule that your backup is going to play.”
Calgary (4-4-1) hosts Vancouver (5-5-1) on Tuesday before heading out on a three-game road trip. Where Calgary sits in the standings and Karlsson’s performance will determine whether the Flames can stick to their goaltending strategy.
Karlsson had 30 saves in a 5-2 loss to St. Louis in Calgary’s second game of the season. Their OT loss Oct. 20 was a heartbreaker as the New York Rangers scored on the tall Swede with half a second left.
“Obviously Karlsson’s first game wasn’t at the level where he wanted it to be, but the second game he played really well. He gave us a great chance to win it and unfortunately we didn’t,” Sutter said. “We need that from him and yet the guys are very confident and comfortable with both guys in the net.”
Karlsson went 4-5-6 last season behind Kiprusoff, who posted a 37-24-6 record.
“It’s all about winning games,” Karlsson said. “It’s up to me to prove I can play more and help the team and that the team can win when I’m playing also.”
Kiprusoff says he’s never lobbied to play a certain number of games. He’s not adverse to a slightly reduced workload this season.
“I’m fine with that,” Kiprusoff said. “I know that’s the plan here now and I believe it would be best for the team too. It’ll be easier for Henrik to play too when he gets more action and it would help me to be more fresh every game.”
Thirty-five isn’t over the hill for an NHL goaltender when you consider Tim Thomas won a Stanley Cup last season with the Boston Bruins at 37. Nikolai Khabibulin, 38, is a prime reason for Edmonton’s strong start this season.
With his team outplayed in front of him, Kiprusoff stole a 3-1 win from the Blues with a 24-save performance last Friday. Three days earlier, he’d made 34 saves in a 4-2 win over Colorado.
Kiprusoff says he feels good physically, although he’s altered his preparation before he goes on the ice.
“I have to do better warmups here before practice,” he said. “I’m fine with that. I enjoy it and it’s part of the game, but for sure I can’t come here 30 minutes before practice, have a cup of coffee and go on the ice and feel great.”
With Kiprusoff having three years remaining on a contract that counts US$5.8 million against the cap, it makes business sense for Calgary to pace him carefully.
“It’s something that was addressed during the summer,” Sutter said. “It’s something everyone who was a part of the discussion agreed (that) this is what needs to be done.”