Miikka Kiprusoff Frustrated by Poor Play as Flames Flounder
CALGARY – It's a sound that has been heard before in the Scotiabank Saddledome.
You'd be hard pressed, though, to remember a time when derisive cat-calls were directed at the man between the pipes.
Jarome Iginla may be the face of the Calgary Flames, but netminder Miikka Kiprusoff has been at the team's heart since he joined it seven years ago. It's been his other-worldly play in goal that has been a constant for this team year after year, the number one reason the Flames have enjoyed any type of success.
But fans, weary of the club's inconsistency during a year that has the Flames treading water in search of a playoff berth, turned on their perennial savior on Wednesday night at the tail end of a 6-0 thrashing by the Minnesota Wild, giving the Finnish 'keeper the old Bronx cheer.
"I don't think it's right,'' said forward Brendan Morrison. "It's an embarrassing situation all the way around, but to single one guy out is unfair. I haven't been here that long, but I don't think he's ever had a stretch like this. When expectations are this high and you have a couple of off-games, I think it's more shock than anything. It's almost like people have given up on him, after four games, which I think is almost comical in a way. We all know he's one of the best goaltenders in the world; we have all the faith that he's going to bounce back.''
This season has been un-Kipper-like in all respects. His goals-against average is 2.84, 30th in the league. His save percentage is a bleak .897, good for 34th. He's been yanked on a few occasions, specifically twice in his last four starts. In each of those two games, he gave up four goals before getting the hook.
He's allowed 19 goals in his last five games, and he is first in the NHL in that category with 108.
Tough times indeed for one of the finest goalies in the game.
"Like I said yesterday, I have to practice hard, go through videos, things like that,'' suggested the soft-spoken 34-year-old, who agreed he may be trying a tad too hard. "That might be one thing. Technically and mentally, it works both ways.
"I've had some tough games before. It's a new thing now and I have to work my way out of it. I should take one game at a time. I need to relax and do my basic stuff when I practice, that way my game will be there.''
The adversity, though he doesn't care for it, is something he endures.
"That's why you're a pro,'' Kiprusoff noted. "You have to be able to handle things and now for me it's to get my game back. Like I said earlier, Jamie (goaltending coach McLennan) has been helping me out and we go from there. If we see something, we work with those things.''
In the Flames' dressing room after Thursday's practice, some felt too much was being made of Kiprusoff's come-down-to-earth stretch. At a time in the season when every single point is worth its weight in gold, the Flames can ill afford off-nights from its key individuals.
"It's just magnified because of our situation,'' said Morrison. "If we were holding down a playoff spot and had room to breathe, I don't think much would be made of it.''
"I think it's getting blown up,'' defenseman Mark Giordano said. "Last night's game was giving up too many quality chances in front of our net. You can't expect your goalie to always bail you out.
"With a guy like Kip, he's made those unbelievable saves for so long now, that if he doesn't make one or two a game it's like 'Whoa, what's wrong with him?' We know he's one of the best in the world. He's going to be there for us; he's our guy. I don't think it's too much of a concern.''
The jeering struck a nerve with head coach Brent Sutter, too.
"It bothers me because I care a lot about my players,'' he said. "They're human beings and they have tough days. People have the right to do what they want, but sure it bothers me.
"You know what, guys? Miikka Kiprusoff is a very good goalie. He's been a very good goalie for this organization for a long time and will continue to do so. He's going through a tough spell here. He's very prideful and takes it to heart. It's eating at him on the inside. He needs to let all that go and take the world off his shoulders and have fun with the game.''
By the end of the Minnesota game, the boos were not just reserved for Kiprusoff.
"We have to use it as motivation,'' Morrison said. "Nobody thinks we can do it (make the playoffs), I don't believe, except for the guys in this room. What you hear and what you read, everyone's saying there's no way we can do it. There's no nicer way to show everyone we can than by actually going out and performing well. It's a situation we've put ourselves in.''