Few know – or admire – Calgary Flames' goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff the way Darryl Sutter does. Sutter, now the Los Angeles Kings' coach, used to run the Flames as general manager and coach and way back in the day – 2003 – made an astute trade for Kiprusoff that launched the Finnish goalie's NHL career and ushered in a new improved era for Calgary. With Sutter coaching and Kiprusoff stopping the puck, the Flames unexpectedly advance to the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Since then, Kiprusoff has taken his place, alongside Mike Vernon, as one of the most accomplished goaltenders in franchise history.
Just Friday, Sutter was singing Kiprusoff's praises again to reporters, noting that his return to the Flames line-up this past Wednesday, after a month on the sidelines recovering from a knee injury, could just be the catalyst to get their season back on the rails. This was hours before Kiprusoff and the Flames lost a 4-0 decision to the Anaheim Ducks Friday night. The Flames weighed the pros and cons of coming back with Kiprusoff again 24 hours later; decided it was worth the risk; but it ultimately backfired on them.
The Kings put three past Kiprusoff in the first period, and never trailed, ultimately defeating Calgary 6-2 before a sellout crowd at the Staples Centre. In all, Kiprusoff gave up six goals on 22 shots before he got the hook midway through the third period in favour of Joey MacDonald.
Everyone was careful not to blame Kiprusoff afterward, but the sorts of goals he surrendered against the Kings, he routinely stopped in his heyday. Once he gets his conditioning and timing back, he may well stop them again, but the Flames are running out of time – and games.
Coach Bob Hartley said he would "sleep on" his decision of who to start for Monday's rematch against the Kings, but same as team captain Jarome Iginla, was perfectly willing to discuss the urgency facing the 9-10-4 Flames. The coach and the captain had a brief chat before Hartley's post-game press conference. Calgary is officially 12th, but tied in points with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference standings and ahead of just the Edmonton Oilers. They are four points out of the final playoff spot and will reach the midpoint of their season Monday night.
"We're not far from eighth spot, but at the same time, there are so many teams stuck in that logjam," said Hartley, "and we have to put a winning streak on. Last night, I thought we put on a very good effort, but tonight, our execution was not good. We just didn't give ourselves a chance to win."
On a night when the Kings paid tribute to former goaltender Kelly Hrudey and his trademark purple bandannas, the game had a distinct retro feel to it, especially early on. Both teams were sloppy defensively in the opening 20 minutes, and though neither goaltender – Kiprusoff or his Kings' counterpart Jonathan Quick shone – they were frequently left to their own devices.
Play settled down in the second, with the Kings scoring the only goal of a lacklustre period, Justin Williams tipping in Slava Voynov's shot from the right point, which essentially put the game on ice. Voynov had his second three-point night of the week for the Kings, the second-year Russian defenceman seemingly gaining confidence with every passing game.
Voynov's emergence made Jack Johnson expendable at the trade deadline last year and the player that the Kings got in exchange, Jeff Carter, scored his 17th of the season to open the scoring in the game, a tip-in on the power play. It was also Carter's 13th goal in his last 13 games, as he's closed to within two of the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos for the NHL goal-scoring lead.
Kiprusoff wasn't terrible, but he wasn't the lights-out good goaltender that Sutter remembers so fondly or that Calgary needs to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Flames had moved above .500 after wrapping up a short home stand and were counting on this little junket to California to build momentum and perhaps inch up the Western Conference standings.
"We just haven't been able to stop the bleeding, when it's going in," said Iginla. "We didn't make our chances count, when we needed them to."
Calgary played the game without left winger Curtis Glencross, who apparently injured his right wrist in the loss to the Ducks, possibly on a collision with Corey Perry. Earlier in the day, the Flames made a roster move, sending rookie Sven Baertschi to Abbotsford in the AHL and activating Mikael Backlund from injured reserve. Baertschi had only one assist in 10 NHL games in limited playing time and the belief was that his development will be better served by playing more in the minors. Altogether, Backlund missed 14 games recovering from a knee injury.
The Kings lost centre Mike Richards briefly with an undisclosed injury in the second period after he took a big hit from the Flames' Tim Jackman, but he was back for the third.
Mike Cammalleri, on a five-on-three power play, and Alex Tanguay scored the goals for Calgary. Carter, Jake Muzzin, Trevor Lewis, Williams, Anze Kopitar and Colin Fraser accounted for L.A.'s scoring.
"For us, (Sunday) is a day off and we have a chance to regroup, refocus and re-energize," said Hartley, "and on Monday, come back with a better effort."