Photo by davidgsteadman
The good news? Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, pulled in two of his last three previous starts, managed to play the full 60 minutes against the Minnesota Wild.
You have to give Flames’ coach Brent Sutter some credit. He’s sticking with Kiprusoff and trying to let him work things out. Even though the Minnesota game was a massacre for Kiprusoff, Sutter recognized the game was out of reach and kept his goalie in the net, hoping he might figure some things out.
Still, pretty much everyone agrees it might be time to give some starts to Henrik “The Calgary Tower” Karlsson, who’s been pretty strong in his eight starts this year.
Sutter’s been reluctant to pull the plug on Kiprusoff because he’s the franchise goalie and he doesn’t want to totally destroy his confidence. But, in the back of his head, Sutter has to be thinking about Kiprusoff’s historically slow starts. The slow starts seemingly take longer and longer to disappear up each season. Is it possible this is part of Kiprusoff’s slow start process? Will he eventually settle down?
With Calgary sitting 14th in the Western Conference, it’s pretty obvious the Flames can’t afford a goalie who takes 40-something games to get going. I can’t think of an NHL team that can afford that kind of goalie.
There are other accommodations Sutter could make for his goalie, though. Like slowing down the Flames’ offense. Last night against the Wild, the Flames never had any kind of sustained pressure. Calgary looked exhausted. So why keep pushing? Why not bring his team into a defensive stance to try and help Kiprusoff out? When the offense isn’t there, why not focus on defense and try and keep the score close?
In fact, another NHL coach who might want to think about that is Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. Wilson saw his team give up six goals to the Rangers, hardly an offensive juggernaut. Wilson kept pushing for offense, even as he exposed goalie Jonas Gustavsson (and briefly, backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere) to more and more odd-man rushes created by the offensive push.
Every coach wants a lights-out goalie who’s going to save games and stop every defensive mistake. But those goalies are a relatively rare breed. So if a goalie is struggling, a coach needs to consider helping out with defense, helping their goalie see lower-quality shots. Because unless teams like the Leafs and the Flames figure out how to score seven or eight goals a night, their porous goaltending is almost always going to result in a loss.