Calgarypuck's Mid-Season Review
Goalies Have Never Had it So Good!

Rick Charlton
January 14th, 2004
Flames goaltenders have never had it this good.

Calgary entered the second quarter of the 2003-2004 season 19th defensively and exited sitting second overall, which is pretty much all you need to know about their 13-5-2 surge in the last 20 games.

In spite of a few stumbles through the last six weeks, Calgary continues to be among the league leaders in a key statistic - shots against.

Flames are third in fewest shots allowed at only 24.7 per game, limiting the opposition to only a handful of quality chances every 60 minutes, a critical statistic in the first half of the season indicating a team playing a very consistent game in its own zone.

The assumption outside of Calgary is the Flames must be relying on goaltending for their surge to top third of the standings.

Yet that remains the most interesting part of this most fascinating turnaround - you can really only point to a handful of times where a Calgary goaltender has actually stolen points.

It's been team success all the way.

WHAT'S WORKING - Calgary surrendered two or fewer goals in 15 straight games in the quarter and allowed the opposition three tallies in only a trio of the 20 games played if you count an empty net marker to Chicago last week.

Perhaps the most telling part of those insane defensive numbers is the fact you couldn't ascribe it to either Mikka Kiprusoff or Jamie McLennan standing on their heads for great lengths of times.

For much of the quarter, indeed for much of this season, the Flames have been astonishingly efficient in denying the opposition much of anything in the way of offensive chances.

Or, second chances.

Kiprusoff in particular was very good for Calgary before succumbing to injury, his .941 save percentage and 11-3-2 record ample proof.

Perhaps it's more instructive to examine the work of McLennan in the quarter, now third string on this team but adequate enough in front of Calgary's routine tight defensive net to post a .922 save percentage, one of the better such marks in the NHL.

The best thing you can say about the Flames is sweet music to any coach - they give themselves a chance to win each and every night, virtually without exception.

In years past, you could always count on the Flames to make one epic push in a season, usually on emotion and usually without a firm grasp as to why they might actually be winning, which was a fair recipe for the inevitable collapse later on.

It's their defensive consistency, in spite of a plethora of key injuries, which has sustained them.

WHAT'S NOT WORKING - Lady luck isn't working for this team in spite of its success. Injuries to key people and at particular positions - centre and goal - seem directed deliberately to crater any success the Flames have been enjoying.

In more practical terms, Calgary's anemic power play, somewhat efficient entering the quarter but a disaster as the 20 game segment unfolded, has to improve if the Flames are to continue their current pace.

The return of a skilled forward like Steve Reinprecht, a single player, gave the power play life in the last few games.

Calgary has to rise from 18th spot on the power play and 19th on the penalty kill, at least marginally, to keep themselves ahead of the pack.

DEFENSIVE MVP IN THE SECOND QUARTER - Miikka Kiprusoff came and went, acquired then injured, yet his mark on the Flames couldn't have been more profound.

While we've waxed poetic about the impact off Calgary's overall team game, it would be an injustice to fail to acknowledge that Kiprusoff's .941 save percentage is special, if not bordering on historic, if it were conveyed through an entire season.

With their injuries in December, the Flames were ripe for a fall and might have dropped like a stone except for those six one game wins delivered by Kiprusoff, often by scores of 2-1 or less.

OFFENSIVE MVP IN THE SECOND QUARTER - Perhaps we should split this into home/away MVP's.

Early in the quarter it was all about the home ice marksmanship of the unlikely Shean Donovan, a career stick squeezer who suddenly began to dance like Baryshnikov.

To date this season, Donovan has scored 11 times at the Saddledome and only once wearing road colours.

At the other end of the spectrum was Jarome Iginla, unable to score at home but a road warrior who led Calgary to six straight triumphs in away arenas.

In the end though, we have to give it to Iginla, his overall game coming alive as the quarter draws to a close, looking every bit the dominant two-way player we've seen in streaks through the last few seasons.

KEYS FOR THE NEXT QUARTER - At 13-5-2 in the last 20 games, there shouldn't be much doubt that we're calling for more of the same.

While some are demanding an infusion of new bodies via the trade market to help Calgary finish this campaign, it might be a fairer analysis to say the Flames saved their season in December and early January in spite of their injuries.

In looking back, it seems fantastically improbable the Flames could have been as successful as they were missing the likes of Steve Reinprecht, Craig Conroy, Blair Betts, Roman Turek and later, Kiprusoff.

As the wounded begin returning in the next few weeks, we will have seen a crisis averted and most likely, with a daunting schedule ahead, lesser success but still enough to push through the quarter with enough wins to maintain their position in the standings.

WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO DO TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS? - If you're giving up two goals or fewer a game, not overly relying on your goaltenders while doing so, then it's an easy call to continue down the same path that we've just seen.

With the return of Reinprecht and the imminent suiting up of Conroy, Calgary's anemic power play should at least show some modest signs of life.

There are several points in a season where the competition level in the NHL ratchets up, where the pretenders and the weak get left behind and those teams who were real all along continue to power forward.

We're at one of those junctures now.

It only gets tougher.

  Back to
Read other Stories
Talk About it!