Calgary Flames expect to see less of Miikka Kiprusoff, more results from Niklas Hagman

Plenty of NHL general managers faced some tough off-season questions in the summer of 2011, but Jay Feaster ranks as one of the GMs in the most awkward position.

The Calgary Flames’ fortunes skyrocketed once Feaster took over for sourpuss predecessor Darryl Sutter midway through the 2010-11 season, even though Feaster didn’t exactly make wholesale changes to the roster he inherited. At the same time, the Flames ranked – and still rank – among the NHL’s most expensive teams even though they missed the 2011 playoffs and haven’t really added many new players.

This means that the Flames are going to have to improve from within. Head coach Brent Sutter will need to get more from a mostly unchanged group, which means that underachieving players must turn things around while breakout guys need to keep things going.

Here are two articles that provide hopeful outlooks for two different Flames players.

Expect less of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff

When I took a glance at the Flames’ chances of being a legitimate playoff contender next season, one of my biggest Calgary criticisms revolved around the excessive workload handed out to Miikka Kiprusoff. Kipper has played in at least 70 games for six straight seasons and has been decidedly average (in my opinion) in four of his last five.

The possibly good news is that Feaster claims that Kipper won’t make 70+ starts in 11-12, according to a Q & A session that the Calgary Sun covered. (H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

When someone asked whether goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff would play more than 70 games again this season, Feaster wasn’t looking around for head coach Brent Sutter for an answer.

It was a resounding, “No.”

“The workload’s too great,” said Feaster of his all-star netminder. “In order for us to reduce Kipper’s workload, we have to have a backup goaltender the coach has confidence in there. We have to have a backup goaltender the players believe in the same way.

“I can tell you Sutter has all the confidence in the world in (Henrik) Karlsson.

In my mind, less playing time will give Kipper more time to rest up and should help him improve his numbers a bit next season. But less Kipper will only be a good thing for Calgary if Karlsson plays well. Since Henrik’s workload was so small last season, here’s a look at how Kipper’s stats have compared to his backup(s)’ since the lockout.

2010-11

Kipper: 71 GP; 37-24-6; .906 save percentage, 2.63 GAA and 6 shutouts
Karlsson: 17 GP; 4-5-6; .908 sv%, 2.58 GAA and 0 SOs

2009-10

Kipper: 73 GP; 35-28-10; .920 sv%; 2.31 GAA and 4 SOs
Curtis McElhinney: 10 GP; 3-4-0; .885 sv% and 0 SOs
Vesa Toskala: 6 GP; 2-0-0; .918 sv%, 2.26 GAA and 0 SOs

2008-09

Kipper: 76 GP; 45-24-5; .903 sv%, 2.84 GAA and 4 SOs
McElhinney: 14 GP; 1-6-1; .889 sv%, 3.59 GAA and 0 SOs

2007-08

Kipper: 76 GP; 39-26-10; .906 sv%, 2.69 GAA and 2 SOs
Curtis Joseph: 9 GP; 3-2-0; .906 sv%, 2.55 GAA and 0 SOs
McElhinney: 6 GP; 0-2-0; .902 sv%, 2 GAA and 0 SOs

2006-07

Kipper: 74 GP; 40-24-9; .917 sv%, 2.46 GAA and 7 SOs
Jamie McLennan: 9 GP; 3-5-1; .895 sv%, 3.60 GAA and 0 SOs

2005-06

Kipper: 74 GP; 42-20-11; .923 sv%, 2.07 GAA and 10 SOs
Philippe Sauve: 8 GP; 3-3-0; .891 sv%, 3.28 GAA and 0 SOs
Brian Boucher: 3 GP; 1-2-0; .854 sv%, 4.95 GAA and 0 SOs

Interestingly enough, Kipper is the only Flames goalie to earn a shutout since the lockout. Karlsson is the only backup to put up better individual stats than Kiprusoff since that time, as well. This study shows that leaning heavily upon Kiprusoff has obviously been the Flames best option over the years, but perhaps Karlsson will finally give the Flames the breathing room to give their overworked franchise goalie a little time off.

More results from Niklas Hagman?

When asked which player should have a breakout season, Feaster told fans that he expects more from winger Niklas Hagman. (H/T to Rotoworld.)

n Which player do you see having a breakout season?

Feaster: “Nik Hagman. He sat in the exit meeting and he, too, was very, very upset about the way his season went. He told me, ‘If I don’t have a bounce-back season, I may not get another NHL contract.’ He has worked out incredibly hard this summer.”

A contract year is one of the best motivators in all of sports, so that inspiration alone should give Hagman a strong chance of improving. If nothing else, he might just need some more bounces to go his way. Since being traded to Calgary, Hagman had a 7.4 shooting percentage in 27 games in 09-10 and a 7.9 percent mark in 71 games in 10-11, well below his 10.1 percent career average. Hagman has 20+ goal potential, but he only had 11 goals in 10-11 as you could see his lack of confidence in his low shooting percentage and amount of shots (140). Those numbers show that Feaster has good reason to tab Hagman for an upswing because he has nowhere to go but up.

***

I’ve criticized Feaster’s moves and the Flames’ direction before, but let’s give Calgary a full season under their new GM before we totally condemn his moves. If next season is another disappointment, it’s likely that Feaster will have a lot more work on his hands.

The Buzzer: Kopitar keeps Kings rolling; O’Reilly gives Sabres OT win

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Player of the night: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. The Los Angeles Kings continued their impressive start on Saturday night with a 6-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, improving their record to a league-best 6-0-1 through their first seven games.

Anze Kopitar was the star of the night as he finished with two goals, an assist, three shots on goal, a plus-five rating while also winning 68 percent of his faceoffs.

His second goal of the game, which came with less than three minutes to play in regulation, proved to be the game-winner for the Kings.

Dustin Brown added an empty net goal (he finished with four points in the win) a minute later.

Kopitar is coming off of a down year offensively in 2016-17 but already has 11 points (six goals, five assists) so far this season for a Kings team that looks to be vastly improved under new coach John Stevens.

Highlight of the night. 

For most of Saturday night it looked like the Buffalo Sabres were on their way to another ugly loss, continuing what has been a miserable start to the season. At one point in the second period they found themselves trailing by a 4-1 margin. But they slowly started to chip away then after Evander Kane scored a late third period goal to tie the game, Ryan O'Reilly ended up winning it in overtime on this beauty of a play to give the Sabres their second win of the season.

Factoid of the Night.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have two superstars at forward. They are playing like it. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are the first pair of teammates in more than 15 years to start a season with matching nine-game point streaks. [NHL]

Misc.

— Three more assists for Erik Karlsson on Saturday night giving him six on the season. He has played in two games. After major ankle surgery. He is not human.

Clayton Keller added to his rookie leading goal total with his sixth of the season. He is the one bright spot for the Arizona Coyotes this season as they remain winless after their 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

— With the first two-goal game of his NHL career Tyler Pitlick was the difference for the Dallas Stars in their 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are both off to tremendous starts for the Boston Bruins. Both players scored a pair of goals for the Bruins on Saturday night in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Both players already have six goals on the season.

James Reimer was great for the Florida Panthers, stopping 41 shots in their 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals. With Roberto Luongo on injured reserve the Panthers are going to need a couple of big games from Reimer over the next week.

Mikhail Sergachev looks fantastic for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is now up to eight points on the season.

Wayne Simmonds was the hero for the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday with a late goal to help lift them to a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. He is now up to six goals on the season. Claude Giroux scored his fifth goal in the win.

Logan Couture‘s hat trick was not enough to help the San Jose Sharks in New York on Saturday night against the Islanders. John Tavares had a goal, two assists in the win.

Scores and recaps

New York Rangers 4, Nashville Predators 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Edmonton Oilers 1

Buffalo Sabres 5, Boston Bruins 4

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

Ottawa Senators 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 3

New York Islanders 5, San Jose Sharks 3

Los Angeles Kings 6, Columbus Blue Jackest 4

Florida Panthers 4, Washington Capitals 1

Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Minnesota Wild 4, Calgary Flames 2

Vegas Golden Knights 3, St. Louis Blues 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jaromir Jagr leaves game with lower body injury

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Calgary Flames forward Jaromir Jagr played just four shifts on Saturday night before exiting their game against the Minnesota Wild in the first period.

The Flames later announced that Jagr would not return with what the team is calling a lower body injury.

They had no other update.

After going through the entire summer unsigned as a free agent, Jagr finally landed a one-year deal with the Flames just before the start of the season. So far he has appeared in five games for the team recording a pair of assists.

He recorded 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) while playing in all 82 games for the Florida Panthers a year ago.

Even though he appeared in every game a year ago he still showed some signs of finally starting to slow down, and you have to assume that there is going to be some sort of an injury concern for a player that is turning 46 years old in February.

Senators top Maple Leafs but lose Bobby Ryan for a month

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The Ottawa Senators’ 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night came with a price.

After the game coach Guy Boucher confirmed that veteran forward Bobby Ryan broke his right index finger during the game and is expected to miss at least the next month.

Ryan has yet to score a goal for the Senators in eight games this season but has recorded five assists.

He fought through an injury plagued season in 2016-17 that ended with one of the worst individual stat lines of his career. He was able to salvage the season however with a tremendous postseason performance that saw him finish with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 19 games as the Senators went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they would lose in double overtime.

The Senators are off to a great start this season earning at least a point in seven of their first eight games (4-1-3).

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Penguins seem to have a backup goalie problem

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The Penguins worked to address one area of concern on Saturday when they acquired forward Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings.

Now they need to start working on another major area of concern — their backup goalie.

The Penguins had to know Antti Niemi was never going to step into Pittsburgh and replace what Marc-Andre Fleury gave them on the ice, but they had to be expecting a little more than what they have received thus far.

After giving up seven goals in the Penguins’ 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, Niemi has now given up 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey this season. His save percentage is a brutal .797.

In games Niemi starts the Penguins are 0-3 and have been outscored 22-6, losing games by margins of 10-1 and 7-1.

In the games he hasn’t started they are 5-0-1 and have outscored their opponents 24-17.

It would be unfair to put all of the blame on Niemi, because even with regular starter Matt Murray in net they have also had stretches where they have struggled defensively and not quite played at the level they showed the past two seasons.

Niemi has also made all of his starts in the second half of back-to-back situations against teams that were not only rested the night before, but also teams that should be among the best in the league this season (the Chicago Blackhawks, two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning).

But none of that can excuse the way Niemi himself has played thus far, either. At some point you  need your goalie to make a save no matter who your team is playing or what is happening around him. His rebound control has been shaky, he looks uncomfortable when he is making saves and it is not like he is coming off of a great performance a year ago. In 42 appearances with the Dallas Stars he finished with an .892 save percentage, one of the worst marks in the league, and was at .905 the year before. He is 34 years old and has not performed at a better than league average level (or even at a league average level) in several years.

It has to be an area of concern for the Penguins because if Murray has a flaw early in his young career it is that he has missed some time due to injury. In the past they have had Fleury there to step in. They do not have that luxury now.

Niemi is only signed for one year at $700,000 so it is not like they have a huge investment in him.

If they decide to go in another direction already (they will probably give Niemi a little bit of a longer leash, I am sure) they have Tristan Jarry in the American Hockey League, or perhaps explore a trade if they are uncomfortable with such a young duo and inexperienced backup behind Murray.

Either way, it is really difficult to see them sticking around with this sort of performance from their backup for much longer.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.