Jamming the Crease (cont.)
The Flames' burning question
What's more frightening for fans of the Flames: the fact that Miikka Kiprusoff is statistically the NHL's second-worst starter (his .885 save percentage and 3.49 GAA are better only than Turco's) or that they're married to him for the next five years at $7 million a pop?
After watching Kiprusoff blistered for 17 goals in his last four starts, it's easy to blame his struggles on the team's defensive woes. He definitely is facing higher quality shots than he did just two years ago, but that's only part of the problem. Much like Turco, Kipper's problems appear to be mental. The confidence and concentration that used to define his excellence aren't at the same levels. He leads the league in juicy rebounds, is giving up more softies, and seems to have a harder time shaking them off.
So what's a more frightening option for coach Mike Keenan? Allowing Kiprusoff to work through his issues or falling back on Curtis McElhinney? The benchwarmer has yet to post a win in seven NHL appearances, so he's not much of an option.
After losing a pair of 6-1 games in a week, and with the team playing so dispassionately that it coughed up 50 shots to the Sharks, Keenan has to realize that he and his staff might not have long to turn things around. In that case, he has to ride the big dog. A couple more games like that San Jose debacle and Calgary's goaltending woes won't be Keenan's problem any longer.
The Thrashers could tie a franchise record with five consecutive wins if they can take care of the Hurricanes on Friday night. While the points are nice, the bigger picture is that Atlanta is playing with a level of confidence not seen in more than a year. In each of their last three wins, the Thrashers came from behind at least twice. In a 5-4 win over Buffalo last Friday, they erased three one-goal deficits before wrapping it up in overtime.
Not to oversimplify, but the biggest difference is the way new coach John Anderson has his team competing for 60 minutes. Combine that with their growing comfort level with his system, and the Thrashers are playing their best hockey since winning the Southeast title in 2006.
Keeping it real
Commenting on Mike Ribeiro's jaw-dropping shootout goal against the Kings on Tuesday night, Stars captain Brenden Morrow pulled back the curtain a bit to explain why you don't see more players attempting the spectacular. "There's another move he's been trying where he flips the puck [up] and then bats it out of the air," Morrow told a Dallas radio station. "But I told him if he ever tries that in a game and misses, I'm gonna slap him around."
Substance wins out over style again.