Flames Need to Replace Kiprusoff’s Reliability

Over the course of nine seasons with the Calgary Flames, Miikka Kiprusoff was a steady and reliable goaltender; a talent that has been unseen in Calgary since his retirement in 2013.

Kiprusoff is the Flames’ record-holder in wins (305), games played (576), shutouts (41), shots against (16,018), saves (14,631), save percentage (.913), and goals-against average (2.46). His consistency helped shape the franchise for nearly a decade, when the Flames made five consecutive playoff appearances from 2003-04 to 2008-09.

The Trade

Kiprusoff began his 12-year career with the San Jose Sharks in the 2000-01 season. In November 2003, the Flames acquired the Turku, Finland-native for a conditional pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The conditional pick became a second-round pick, when the Sharks drafted defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Since they already had Evgeni Nabokov as their starting goalie, both teams got exactly what they needed from the trade.

Miikka Kiprusoff Flames
Miikka Kiprusoff. (Icon SMI)

After putting up forgettable numbers with the Sharks in 2002-03, with a 5-14 record, .879 save percentage (SV%), and 3.25 goals-against average (GAA), Kiprusoff made a memorable first impression with the Flames in the 2003-04 season.

Related: Trade Revisited: Vlasic for Kiprusoff

He had a 24-10-4 record with a .933 SV% and an incredible 1.70 GAA. In the playoffs he had a 15-11 record with five shutouts, a .928 SV%, and a 1.85 GAA, which helped propel the Flames into the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, we know how that magical season ended, but Kiprusoff’s immediate impact was undeniable and it didn’t end there.

Cementing His Legacy

Following the Flames’ run to the Final and an NHL lockout, Kiprusoff began the 2005-06 season where he left off. He finished the season with a 42-20-11 record, ten shutouts, a .923 SV%, and a 2.07 GAA. The Flames lost their first-round matchup to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in seven games, but Kiprusoff still captured the Vezina Trophy and the William M. Jennings Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Miikka Kiprusoff
Miikka Kiprusoff (Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE)

Kiprusoff was a workhorse for the Flames, playing at least 70 games a season from 2005-06 to 2011-12, and he hit the 35-win mark in each of those seasons. He also never finished with a GAA over 2.84.

Some years were significantly better than others during that eight-year stretch, but the Flames turned a second-round pick into a franchise goaltender by acquiring Kiprusoff; he was more reliable than any of the Flames’ goaltenders since he retired.

Searching for Similarities

Since Kiprusoff retired in 2013, the team has had a goaltender carousel, with Joey MacDonald, Karri Ramo, Reto Berra, Joni Ortio, Jonas Hiller, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Jon Gillies, Mike Smith, and David Rittich making appearances as the starting goaltender.

Jonas Hiller (Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)

Rittich boasted a 27-9-5 record last season, which is the most wins in a season from a Flames goalie since Kiprusoff’s 35-win campaign in 2011-12. That same season, Kiprusoff had a .921 SV%, which has not been surpassed. Hiller came the closest, finishing the 2014-15 season with a .918 SV% and a 2.36 GAA, just shy of Kiprusoff’s 2.35 GAA in 2011-12. No other starting goalie has come closer or hit that mark since.

A Solution

Since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, Rittich has played 70 games for the Flames with a 41-16-9 record, reminiscent of Kiprusoff’s best seasons, with three shutouts, a 2.54 GAA, and a .911 SV%.

David Rittich, Sven Baertschi
Vancouver Canucks’ Sven Baertschi and Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

In that span, Rittich has been a big part of any success the Flames have found, but he’s still lacking the consistency that the team once had between the pipes. Over his last 10 games, Rittich has save percentage numbers ranging from .963, .947, and .944 to .897, .875, and .839.

More often then not, he does see around 28 or more shots-per-game. Down the stretch, the Flames will be leaning heavily on their net-minder to help them climb the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings.

The Flames are in third place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights just one point behind them and the Vancouver Canucks two points behind them. It’s going to be a tight race with teams fighting to earn every point possible as they keep their eyes on the playoff prize.

With the Flames looking to reach the playoffs for the second straight year, they’ll be looking for Rittich to add to his impressive record, dating back to the start of last season, in hopes that he can provide the consistency and reliability that Kiprusoff once did.

With Kiprusoff between the pipes, the Flames knew they could rely on their Finnish workhorse for at least 70 games played and 35 wins per season. Rittich has provided the Flames with high-quality performances since the beginning of last season, and has produced some of the best numbers since Kiprusoff retired, but he still has yet to provide consistency in his game, which was once considered a lock with Kiprusoff in the crease