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Goaltending has helped Flames exceed expectations

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Calgary Flames, goaltending was the biggest issues during training camp. With longtime franchise goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff retiring after nine seasons in Calgary, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the Flames' crease.

But as the Flames have managed to defy expectations in 2013-14, a major key for them has been the contributions from goaltender Karri Ramo, who will make his third start in four days when the Flames take on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

"Our goaltending has been really solid," Flames associate coach Jacques Cloutier said. "Karri Ramo has been playing extremely well of late. He's a big reason we're able to win games."

On a Flames team that has scored two or fewer goals in eight of the past nine games, Ramo and backup Reto Berra have been very consistent. Ramo, who has allowed one goal in four of his past five starts, going 4-1-0 with a .948 save percentage.

It's an unexpected turn of events considering the huge void left in goal with Kiprusoff's retirement. Heading into the season, veteran goaltender Joey MacDonald was considered the likely No. 1. But MacDonald was assigned to Abbotsford of the American Hockey League on Nov. 3 after going 3-3-1 in seven games. Since then, Ramo, who spent the previous four seasons playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, and the 26-year-old rookie Berra have provided stability in net.

"It was kind of difficult. We had two guys who played in Europe. You bring them in and they're used to the big ice surface," Cloutier told "Now they come in and after 30-something games, it's easier for them to figure out the angles."

Ramo will look to continue his hot play against a Rangers squad that has had trouble scoring. On their current franchise-record nine-game homestand, they've gone 0-3-1 and scored seven times. With goals suddenly at a premium, coach Alain Vigneault indicated he expects his entire team to step up.

"If you're going to win in this League and on a consistent basis, you need contributions throughout your bench. That's defense, that's third and fourth lines and that's top players," Vigneault said. "That's making good defensive plays and getting on the score sheet."

Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal for New York. Vigneault did not reveal any lineup changes, but said he was considering playing seven defensemen against Calgary. Derrick Brassard missed New York's 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets with a lower-body injury, but is expected back in the lineup.

Cloutier said his back end would remain unchanged from Calgary's 2-1 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, but that head coach Bob Hartley was considering changes up front.

Here is the projected lineup for the Rangers:

Rick Nash - Brad Richards - Carl Hagelin

Mats Zuccarello - Derek Stepan - Chris Kreider

Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Derek Dorsett

Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore - Arron Asham

Dan Girardi - Ryan McDonagh

Anton Stralman - Michael Del Zotto

John Moore - Dylan McIlrath

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Scratched: Justin Falk, Taylor Pyatt

Injured: Marc Staal (concussion), Ryan Callahan (knee)

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