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Very little has gone right for the Calgary Flames to open the 2013 campaign. After 6 games, they boasted a Conference-worst record of 1-3-2. Jarome Iginla couldn't buy a goal. According to the advanced metric that effectively measures NHL luck, PDO, they were the unluckiest team in the NHL.
On Tuesday night, the bad luck continued. Things were looking good at first: The team played one of their most complete games of the year to date, comfortably handling the Detroit Red Wings, 4-1. Jarome Iginla even got on the board, scoring just three minutes into the first period.
But just when things were beginning to look up, Miikka Kiprusoff was run over by Johan Franzen, and he would later leave the game with a lower-body injury.
Suffice it to say, this is not awesome. Kiprusoff is somewhat important to the Flames' success. Considering how tight the Western Conference has been, how many games have gone to shootouts, and how many teams appear to be competitive, I'd argue that the above-average goaltending he provides is even more integral out West than it is in the East.
But it's not just where the Flames are. It's who they are: they're Miikka Kiprusoff's team. George Johnson of the Calgary Herald made no bones about how integral the Finnish netminder is to any hope the Flames have of making the playoffs this year:
It’s no secret that even now Miikka Kiprusoff remains the Flames’ best hope. That’s true of any year. Pick a year. Such has been his influence, he’s Polyfilla-ed over a staggering number of cracks throughout his tenure here, kept mediocre teams in hunts long after they should’ve been done and dusted.
He is the single most important player in this organization. Still. At 36. Period. Full stop.
But in such a condensed time frame, the dizzying 48-game schedule that awaits, goaltending arguably takes on an even greater significance. Which is encouraging news for a group facing long odds, and little outside expectation, at ending a three-springtime playoff shortfall.
In other words: come back soon, Miikka. You're our only hope.
But that's where the Flames' issues get even worse: There's no one behind Irving. The Flames don't have another goalie under contract in North America.
It's amazing how quickly things can change. Last season, Leland Irving was splitting time with Danny Taylor for the Flames' AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat while Henrik Karlsson served as Miikka Kiprusoff's backup. After awhile, however, the Flames soured on Karlsson and started using Irving as Kipper's relief instead.
Reluctant to lose Karlsson to waivers by attempting to send him down to Abbotsford (in the off-chance that Kiprusoff got hurt, ironically), they kept him with the team and shuttled the waiver-exempt Irving back and forth for his intermittent starts.
This year, they simplified the process. When Irving officially won the job coming out of the abbreviated training camp, the Flames decided they no longer needed to worry about losing Karlsson and gave him away to the Chicago Blackhawks for a 7th round pick.
Two weeks later, they need exactly what they just dismissed for practically nothing.
(Sidenote: Let this be a lesson to the Vancouver Canucks fans getting impatient over having two starting netminders. Your situation can change in an instant.)
So what will the Flames do?
Fortunately, while they're suddenly dealing with a dearth of playable goalies, their farm team spent the entire lockout juggling three of them. In fact, Irving had a hard time getting starts under Troy G. Ward's Heat, as journeymen Danny Taylor and Barry Brust were lights out like the Superdome. Either one of them would be deserving of an NHL contract.
I'd put my money on Brust, who has been a revelation in Abbotsford this year, earning an All-Star appearance on the heels of setting an AHL record for shutout hockey. He has a little NHL experience: he made 11 appearances with the Los Angeles Kings in 2006-07.
But that's the short-term solution. If Kiprusoff's injury turns out to be long-term, that's something else entirely, and something that a Calgary team that's already struggling to contend may be ill-equipped to deal with. Is the Flames' season on the verge of collapse already?