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Flames Watch: Recent streak has Calgary headed in right direction

I was fighting a losing battle in the boardrooms of The Hockey News a few months ago when the editorial team was making our 2008-09 predictions for our annual Yearbook.

The majority of our team had the Calgary Flames pegged for ninth or 10th place in the West, while I was making the case for a division title and third in the conference.

“The Minnesota Wild lost a few key players,” I stated, “and the Flames made some interesting additions in Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Cammalleri.”

The immediate response was cutting the Flames down for losing skill and offense in Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius and Owen Nolan.

“The fact remains,” I reasoned, “the Flames have three of the best players in the game; they have a Hart candidate (Jarome Iginla), a Norris candidate (Dion Phaneuf) and a Vezina candidate (Miikka Kiprusoff). They’re not going to miss the playoffs. Let’s get real.”

“The fact remains,” I was told by our senior writer, “the Flames have no secondary scoring, the defense is getting slow and Kiprusoff doesn’t bother stopping pucks until January or February.”

So the decision was made that improving programs in Edmonton and Phoenix were enough to move them into the playoffs and the Flames out. An 11th hour overruling was made to flip Calgary and Phoenix in our Yearbook predictions to reflect the Flames at eighth and the Coyotes at 10th.

A few weeks into the season that move looks astute. I might have been wrong about Minnesota slipping back, but a four-game winning streak by the Flames has the picture looking brighter in Calgary.

While it’s true Calgary lacks consistent secondary scoring and the defense has yet to live up to expectations, that one biting comment about Kiprusoff has stuck with me. He has been slow out of the gate the past few seasons. If the Flames are to gain confidence and stay ahead of the pretenders, Kiprusoff has to be better than middling. He has to be among the best, from October through April.

When the Flames started 1-3-1 and Kipper was doing his Roman Turek post-contract impression, it looked like I had a lot of explaining to do to my associates. But a .953 save percentage and 1.25 goals-against average in four straight wins has us believing Kiprusoff has checked in early this season.

This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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