Friday, November 16, 2007
Iginla, Kiprusoff playing, and dealing, in different ways
By George Johnson Special to ESPN.com
Over his Captain Crunch and O.J. in the morning, Jarome Iginla admits he can't resist a peek.
"Oh, I look at them," confesses the Calgary Flames captain. "I've always checked the stats, for a number of reasons. I want to see what's going on, who's doing what. I'm interested in them all. Power play. Penalty kill. Plus/minus.
"Plus, it's my job to produce offensively, to score goals and contribute points. I like seeing how I compare to other guys in that department. I want to know where I am."
Jarome Iginla, right, and Miikka Kiprusoff have gone in opposite directions to start the 2007-08 season.
Miikka Kiprusoff, conversely, could care less about the morning paper. He isn't a numbers kind of guy.
"Maybe at the end of the season," says the silent Finn. "Right now, I don't pay attention."
A wise mental-health strategy, at the moment.
Iginla, the unquestioned emotional push behind the Flames, is thriving, while Kiprusoff, arguably the most spectacular goaltender in the game over the past three seasons, is nose-diving.
So the spirit is willing, but the flash has been weak.
As Iginla and Kiprusoff go, so go the Flames. And, right now, Calgary finds itself stuck on a treadmill to mediocrity, a game below .500 and a disquieting 1-5 stretch in what could hardly be described as a November to remember.
They've both been making headlines for altogether different reasons.
As slick as Alex Tanguay is with the puck, as much as Dion Phaneuf deposits indolent forwards into the 10th row of prime seating, as loud as Iron Mike Keenan may bark, without Iginla and Kiprusoff both at the top of their form, the Flames will sink faster than Kevin Federline's career.
Both players signed long-term deals to stay with in Calgary over the past few months. Iginla finalized a five-year, $35 million extension over the summer. Kiprusoff recently opted not to test the lucrative free-agent market, agreeing to a six-year, $35 million front-loaded extension that kicks in after this season (locking him down through 2014).
Iginla's 25 points in 18 games represent one of the quickest starts for a player notoriously tardy out of the gate. The fact that he's only snared six points on the power play (as opposed to the 13 power-play points Sidney Crosby has out of his overall 27) is further testament to the sort of season Iginla is enjoying. He's played big, with edge.
Craig Conroy, Iginla's centerman, warns his sidekick is just getting warmed up.
"Iggy is usually 25 points off the pace and then puts on this amazing charge," Conroy says. "What's disappointing is that we haven't been able as a team to take full advantage of his hot start. And, I mean, he hasn't really gotten hot-hot yet.
"You look at [Vincent] Lecavalier last night. Five points, right? They get ahead, start rolling as a team, and he piles it on. We haven't been ahead too many nights for Iggy to do that kind of scoring. And our power play hasn't been clicking the way it should. I bet the other guys at the top all have more power-play points than he does."
Conroy adds: "But he's always there when we need him. He's been so consistent."
Iginla could very well find himself crowding Sid the Kid, Lecavalier and the others at the top of the league's scoring list right to the end this season. He's at a high altitude and has yet to uncork that big push he's become famous for.
And yet ...
"It doesn't feel like my best start," Iginla hedges. "The one that felt the best was the year I did win the scoring title, and that's because our team got going so well. I think we were first overall after 20 games. That felt ... amazing.
"When you're struggling as a team the way we have been lately, nothing's fun. You lose 3-2 and you don't go home remembering the one you scored, you dwell on that chance you missed that maybe could have changed the complexion of the game."
Kiprusoff doesn't dwell. That, stresses Flames goaltending guru David Marcoux, is a part of what has made his protégé such a revelation since coming over from San Jose.
"He's a warrior, not a worrier," Marcoux says. "That's what Patrick Roy had written inside of his blocker: 'I am a warrior.' Miikka is a warrior. It's a mentality great goaltenders possess. Does he have to be better? Sure. We all do. You know how when you or I go to bed, we toss and turn at night, fretting about our jobs or something that's happened in our families? This guy doesn't.
"We have a new head coach, a new system, new players. We all want the synergy it takes to make a good team to happen as quickly, as easily, as we can. That's only human nature."
Over the past three seasons, each of which culminated in him earning a place among the Vezina Trophy finalists, Kiprusoff has ranked first (1.69), first (2.07) and 12th in goals-against average and first (.933), third (.923) and ninth (.917) in save percentage. So far this season, he's languishing in a tie for 38th in GAA (3.12) with Florida's Tomas Vokoun and 40th in save percentage (.877) alongside New Jersey legend Martin Brodeur and Toronto's Andrew Raycroft.
For Kiprusoff, the questioning headlines are quite new. But if people in Calgary are concerned, he only has himself to blame. It's an impossibly high standard Kiprusoff's set for himself.
"For me, I can't worry too much about what's [in the past]," Kiprusoff told the Calgary Herald. "I can't be happy with what's going on ... the only thing you can do is work hard and work your way out of it."
With Iginla on fire, if only the Magnificent Miikka could start getting warm.
"The important thing for Miikka is that his teammates believe in him and he believes in himself," Marcoux says. "There's no doubting. Everyone knows what kind of goaltender he is. Our entire team, including Miikka, has been going through some adversity lately. And adversity is an interesting thing.
"It doesn't develop character. It reveals it."
George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.