Monday, October 12, 2009

Does Calgary need a new Backup Goaltender?

The Calgary Flames lost for the first time this season, missing the opportunity to start 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. While losses will come, no one expected them to play 82 games without losing, the fact that the team fell flat in front of backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is cause for concern.


Last season, McElhinney posted a 1-6-1 win/loss record, with a 3.59 GAA and .889 save percentage, while appearing in 14 games. In the 20 games he has played in Calgary, McElhinney is 1-9-1 with a 3.30 GAA and .889 save percentage. While his numbers are decent in the AHL (131 GP, 64-49-5 win/loss record, 2.25 GAA and a .914 save percentage), he is yet to break through in the NHL as a reliable option.


With the Olympics coming up, many number one goalies in the league will not be getting a break in February and that includes Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff. The Calgary net minder will play a key role for Team Finland at the Games and coach Brent Sutter will need to find some days off for his all-star goaltender.


In the four seasons since the NHL lockout, Kiprusoff has averaged 75 games per season. When the playoffs arrive, his save percentage takes a sharp dive. His career average is .912% and in their first round exit last year, his save percentage fell to .884% with a 3.52 goals against average - those numbers will not get a team very far in the playoffs.


The role of backup on the contending teams will be more important then ever and Calgary is one team that needs to look at the goaltending position. Can Calgary rely upon McElhinney to steal a game or two against some of the NHL’s lower tier teams? Dallas was winless headed into last night’s game and it would have been the perfect time to make a statement by defeating a team that struggled last season.


Dallas will be in the lower half of the conference all year and Calgary should have picked up some points in this game. Unfortunately for the Flames, it was Dallas backup Alex Auld making the key saves in his first start with the Stars. McElhinney will have every opportunity to keep his job but the Calgary scouting department must be a little concerned and ready to work the phones if this trend continues. If Kiprusoff sustains an injury during the season, can McElhinney be an everyday goaltender in the NHL, even if it is only for a two-week stretch?


In his post game comments, available at the Flames website, coach Sutter was quick to point out the whole team struggled against Dallas.


“Could he have been better? Yes. But he was probably a lot like a lot of other guys,” said Sutter. “We’re talking about someone here who hasn’t had a lot of playing action in over a year. Does he need to be better? Yeah. But so did a lot of other guys tonight.”


One has to wonder if Mike Ribeiro’s goal one minute into the first period deflated the Calgary bench and set the tone for the rest of the game.


While a season is not won or lost by the backup goalie, playoff positioning and precious points are lost when a team fails to beat a struggling visitor. In the Western Conference, where teams like St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles and Nashville will be pushing the top teams for a playoff spot, the coaches in Calgary need to know they can start either goalie and have a chance to win.


The Flames have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs four years in a row and the Sutter Brothers hope this season will see that streak end. Personally, I hope they break the streak too - Calgary is my pick this year for the Stanley Cup. Have a great sports day everyone.

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