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Kiprusoff has Flames in hunt for Northwest lead

Monday, 01.04.2010 / 8:37 PM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

It’s tough to imagine where the Calgary Flames would be without Miikka Kiprusoff this season.

Kiprusoff is the biggest reason the Flames are pressing the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the Northwest Division. He was extremely sharp last week, winning all three of his starts while allowing just three goals on 84 shots, a .964 save percentage.

Kiprusoff has lowered his goals-against average to 2.16 and improved his save percentage to .928 – both figures are among the top 5 in the NHL. Without him, the offensively challenged Flames would be gasping for air; with him, they’ve got an excellent chance to win the division title that eluded them last season.
   
Five up — Five players who've been hot:

Jimmy Howard – The 25-year-old has taken the No. 1 goaltending job in Detroit with his superb play over the last several weeks. Howard was 2-0-1 last week, allowing only four goals while dropping his goals-against average to 2.20 and boosting his save percentage to .923 by stopping 94 of 98 shots.

Jamie Langenbrunner – New Jersey’s captain had a week he’ll never forget. The Minnesota native was named to the U.S. Olympic Team on Friday and celebrated one night later by scoring three goals for his first NHL hat trick while playing in front of family and friends at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Loui Eriksson – The Swedish Olympian is well on his way to another 30-goal season. Eriksson scored five goals in three games this past week, including a hat trick on New Year’s Eve against Anaheim.

Evgeni Nabokov – The man the San Jose Sharks call “Nabby” does one thing better than almost any other goaltender – win. He was 3-0-0 and allowed just six goals last week and has won his last seven starts while not allowing more than two goals in any of them.

Alex Kovalev – Kovalev hasn’t produced the way the Ottawa Senators expected him to – at least not until Sunday, when he became the first player this season to score four goals in a game. He also had an assist in Ottawa’s 7-4 win over Philadelphia, and was 4-2-6 with a shootout goal during the week.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Evgeni Malkin – Not much has been going right for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner over the last couple of weeks. The Penguins have lost five in a row – largely because Malkin has no goals in his last five games, no points in his last four and is minus-8 during the losing streak, including minus-4 in Sunday’s 6-2 loss at Florida.

John Tavares – The No. 1 pick in last June’s Entry Draft still leads all rookies in goals (16) and points (28), but his scoring touch has vanished. He has no points in his last five games and just one (a goal) in his last 11 while going minus-7 in that span.

Christopher Higgins – One reason the New York Rangers have struggled so badly to score is the lack of production from Higgins, who hasn’t produced a point in his last 11 games and has just 4 goals and 10 points in 40 games this season.

Rod Brind’Amour – Carolina’s captain has become almost a non-factor with the ‘Canes. He’s gone 15 games without registering a point while going minus-6 in that span, and his ice time has dropped to where he’s playing only about five minutes a night in his last five games.

Slava Kozlov – He’s still lethal in shootouts, but the 37-year-old is struggling badly otherwise. He’s gone six games without a point while taking just eight shots and going minus-4 in that span. For the season, he has just 8 goals and 19 points in 40 games.

Injuries, news and notes

Out -- Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Calgary cost the Toronto Maple Leafs two points and two players. They lost forward Mikhail Grabovski for six weeks with a broken wrist and center Wayne Primeau for two weeks with a knee injury. … Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf has missed the Ducks' last three games with a lacerated right leg and there's no date set for his return.  … Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar missed both games in Florida over the weekend with a right foot injury after blocking a shot on Wednesday. … Edmonton defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky did not make the trip to San Jose for Saturday’s game after spraining his left ankle Thursday in Calgary. He is day-to-day. Sharks center Manny Malhotra sat out the game with a lower-body injury. … Islanders forward Tim Jackman will miss four weeks with an eye injury sustained Thursday. …  Columbus’ Alexandre Picard will likely sit out Tuesday's game at Vancouver due to a lower-body injury sustained on Saturday. … The Kostitsyn brothers, Sergei and Andrei, both sat our Montreal’s game against Buffalo on Sunday with injuries.  … Rangers forward Vaclav Prospal underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week. The Rangers hope their second-leading scorer will be back in 7-10 days. … Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa is out indefinitely after sustaining a skate cut on his left ankle on Tuesday. … Washington center Nicklas Backstrom left Saturday's game with a migraine. … Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf left Saturday's game against Toronto with an undisclosed injury. … Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson sat out the Hawks’ two weekend games after being hit in the head with a puck on Thursday. … St. Louis forward Paul Kariya has missed the Blues’ last two games with an upper-body injury. … Carolina forward Sergei Samsonov sat out Saturday with an upper-body injury. The ’Canes also put forward Scott Walker (upper body) on IR. … Nashville forward Martin Erat injured his knee and will miss another 7-10 days.

Returning — San Jose’s Jody Shelley (soreness) and Brad Staubitz (facial injury) returned Saturday night for San Jose. … Montreal defenseman Paul Mara played Sunday after missing 11 days with a hand/wrist injury. … Toronto center John Mitchell, who has missed 20 games with a knee injury, is expected back on Tuesday. Forward Viktor Stalberg returned Saturday from a shoulder injury that had kept him out since Dec. 21. … Edmonton forward Fernando Pisani (colitis) could be back in the lineup as early as Tuesday.

Still out – Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro played two AHL games this weekend as he works to return following knee problems that required surgery and have kept him out of the NHL for a full year. Forward Sean Bergenheim (ribs) still has no return date set. … Philadelphia goaltender Ray Emery (abdominal surgery) believes he is a week ahead of his scheduled return. He was expected back around Jan. 20. He’s scheduled to be examined this week. … Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns, who has missed the last 21 games with a concussion, may resume skating this week. … Florida coach Peter DeBoer says forward David Booth, out since October with a concussion, may miss the rest of the season. … New Jersey placed forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond on IR due to an upper body injury.

The week ahead — The frantic pace of the last couple of weeks subsides a bit, with 20 of 30 teams playing only three times.

Games to watch:
   
Atlanta at Pittsburgh (Jan. 5) – One of the NHL’s biggest slumps has to end when the Thrashers, who are 0-5-3 in their last eight games, visit Mellon Arena to face the Penguins, who’ve dropped five in a row.

Toronto at Philadelphia (Jan. 6) – The Flyers host the Leafs in their first home game since Dec. 21.

Anaheim at Nashville (Jan. 9) – The Ducks come to the Sommet Center for the second Saturday in a row. After the game, they fly to Chicago for their second straight Sunday night visit to the United Center.

New Jersey at Montreal (Jan. 9) – It’s always an event when native son Martin Brodeur and the Devils come to Montreal; this is their first visit since Brodeur beat the Habs last March 14 to equal Patrick Roy’s record for career regular-season wins.

Tough week ahead:

Dallas Stars -- The Stars play three of their four games at home, but their game against the Islanders at the American Airlines Center on Friday is just a pit stop -- they're in Columbus on Sunday.

Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings continue the Western trip that began Saturday in Phoenix with games at Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.

St. Louis Blues -- Like the Wings, St. Louis heads west for a week in California, playing the Sharks, Ducks and Kings in a span of four nights.

Easy week ahead:

Buffalo Sabres -- The Sabres get to spend the week at home, facing a not-too-difficult schedule. Playoff outsiders Tampa Bay and Toronto come to HSBC Arena before Colorado arrives. The Avs are a perfect 4-0 against the Northeast Division.

Edmonton Oilers -- With his team struggling, coach Pat Quinn may use this week to get in some practice; the Oilers play just twice, hosting Phoenix and Colorado.

San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks spend the first week of 2010 at home, hosting Los Angeles before the Blues and Red Wings come to town. No back-to-backs this week.


Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie