Kipper will bounce back, coach says
Flames' goalie has struggled in early part of season
Go ahead, check NHL.com and look for Miikka Kiprusoff's stats.
You'll have to dig deep, though, right to the very end of the listed goalies because that's where he's sitting.
OK, so they are only five games into this salvaged 2013 NHL season and the team is 1-3-1. But with a 3.76 goals against average (39th heading into Friday's action) and 0.854 in save percentage, the numbers aren't flattering.
However, aside from all of the early red lights - and for the Calgary Flames, there have been 21 of them this year; 19 allowed by the silent Finn - Bob Hartley still has complete confidence in his goaltender.
"I'll be very honest with you," said the Flames head coach following Friday's on-ice session.
"Miikka Kip-rusoff was one of the reasons why I decided to come to Calgary. I still feel the same way about Miikka Kiprusoff. If I would be a betting man, I know Miikka Kiprusoff is going to win way more games for the Calgary Flames than he's going to lose."
Unprompted, he continued. "He's one of the best goalies in the league," Hartley said. "I feel very comfortable, very confident, with Miikka. And I know that he's going to bounce back."
Mark Giordano gets it. When you aren't winning, fingers are pointed. And when you happen to be the team's best player, the fingers are pointed at you.
The Flames defenceman, maybe more than most, understands the scrutiny their last line of defence is under.
"I think people get too used to him always making the big saves," Giordano said. "We get spoiled a bit. He's been fine. I think, as a team though, we have to be better. We were a little bit loose against Colorado . . . we gave away a few too many good chances in the slot.
"I just feel he makes so many great saves and does so many things right that sometimes we expect too much out of him."
Hence the emphasized defensive zone coverage work in Friday's practice.
So, for the group in front of Kip-rusoff, it's time to take some responsibility Saturday night against the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks.
"As far as Kipper goes, he adapts easily to situations," Giordano continued. "He's one of the easiest goalies you'll ever play with because he never complains if you screen shots in front of him. It never bothers him. Our goal, now as a team, obviously we've given up too many goals to win games. We need to cut that down.
"It's not about the whole entire game, it's certain times, certain shifts when we're giving up really good scoring chances."
From Lee Stempniak's vantage point, he feels the same.
Simply put, they've hung Kipru-soff out to dry on many occasions this year (rebounds, shots in tight, and in the slot, he said) and it's up to them to shore up their defensive zone coverage.
"It's tough for anyone to make saves like that," Stempniak said. "It's definitely unfair. But he still makes big saves. You think back to the Edmonton game, he made a couple big saves early on that kept us in it and let us get our feet going and get the win. He does that every night. We're just not playing well enough in front of him - maybe just a little too loose in our own end."
As a result, he said, a pile of shots are being directed toward the net and in the slot area.
Case and point, P.A. Parenteau's backhander - Kiprusoff's second goal allowed on Thursday evening. On Colorado's fourth goal, too, Paul Stastny found some room on his left side to score the game-winner on an Avalanche power-play in the third period.
"He struggled at times a little bit," admitted goalie coach Clint Malarchuk. "For the most part, the guy is an ultimate competitor and he battled through it the best he could. Things kind of fell apart at the end but I think, the second goal - he knows he didn't have it. The fourth one - he knows. And we talked about it. And we move forward."
And contrary to the criticism in this city, he's not concerned about the well-being of No. 34.
"The Kiprusoff bar is pretty high," Malarchuk said. "If he even lets in one bad goal, people are like, 'Oh my God.' But he's still a human and he's still a goalie.
"No matter how good you are, those are going to happen.'"
Timing, Malarchuk added, is slowly coming for many goalies in the league with no exhibition games to fumble through this year.
He's also not concerned about Kiprusoff's ability to bounce back, either.
"It's a long road," Malarchuk said. "I've asked him, 'Have you ever had a bad game before? Or let in a bad goal?' He goes, 'Yeah.' I said, 'How did the rest of your life work out? You've had a damn good career.' He knows. I don't have to say much to Kip.
"He's been down this road. It's part of the game. It happens. Tomorrow's another day and we go forward."
email@example.com Follow on Twitter/KristenOdlandCH
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald