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Northwest: Flames relying heavily on Iginla, Kiprusoff

by Roger Phillips
The one-word headline on the cover of the Calgary Sun -- "Brutal" -- pretty much told you all you needed to know about the Flames' 6-0 season-opening loss last week at division-rival Vancouver.

Things were only marginally better in the rematch a couple nights later in Calgary as the Flames blew a lead in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Canucks.

The slow start raised two big questions for the Flames and their followers:

*When would Jarome Iginla start putting pucks in the net?

*When would Miikka Kiprusoff start keeping pucks out of the net?

Really, when it comes to the Flames, those are the two key issues. Iginla was held without a point in the season's first two games, and Kiprusoff was lit up twice by a Canucks team that in recent years has struggled to score.

"We all want to be better. I want to be better, have to be better," Iginla told the Calgary Sun when asked about the Flames' slow start. "I look at the power play, I get to play a lot of minutes on it, and we haven't produced at all. One goal in each of those games, especially early, would have been a big difference.
"You don't go into it thinking, 'I've got to do this. I've got to do that,' or you start pressing. It's about getting back to the things I want to do -- get skating, drive to the net, hitting the net with shots."

As for Kiprusoff, he hardly was the only one to be blamed for the Flames' poor start defensively. Still, his 5.33 goals-against average and .855 save percentage after two games weren't exactly something to put on the resume.

"You let in 11 goals in two games and you're a goalie, you can't be happy," Kiprusoff said. "It's little things we have to work on in our own end, but I have to make sure I play the best at my game, too. It's definitely not good enough."

The Flames hosted the Avalanche on Tuesday night in a meeting of the only remaining winless teams in the Northwest Division. After that game, only Colorado remained winless.

It was another wild one in which defense took a backseat. Kiprusoff has now allowed 15 goals in three games, but at least with the 5-4 victory, he got in the win column. And Iginla got on the score sheet, notching the Flames' third power-play goal of the night.

Peter Principle
-- Speaking of the Avalanche, and of struggling goalies, Colorado is looking for a turnaround from goalie Peter Budaj, who had a 4.04 goals-against average and stopped fewer than 80 percent of the shots he faced in the season's two opening defeats.

Things didn't get much better in Tuesday's loss at Calgary, in which Budaj allowed five goals on 30 shots.

Goaltending remains the potential thorn in the side of one of the NHL's more talented offensive units. Jose Theodore was the goalie last season when the Avalanche won their opening-round playoff series against the Wild. But an ailing Theodore was bombed in a second-round sweep by Detroit, and now wears a Capitals uniform.

Sunday's 3-2 loss at Edmonton was especially bitter. The Avalanche outplayed the Oilers, but lost on a goal by Dustin Penner in the closing seconds. Even Oilers coach Craig MacTavish agreed that his team should have lost, praising his own goalie, Mathieu Garon, while at the same time casting a shadow on Budaj's play.

"The reason we won the game was our goalie outplayed their goalie," MacTavish told reporters. "When that happens, you can get away with a stinker."

Budaj said he was disappointed in his play the first couple games.

"Sometimes the bounces are going to go your way and sometimes they're going to go a different way," he told the Rocky Mountain News. "The first two games, the bounces didn't go our way. I've got to find a way to help the team win hockey games. I have to find a way to make that save."

Only one week into the season, meanwhile, the Denver Post was wondering whether it might be time for the Avalanche to trade for a goalie. The message to Budaj was clear: Start playing better or the Avalanche will be looking elsewhere for answers.

Net gain -- MacTavish and the rest of the Oilers are quite pleased with Garon, an eight-year veteran who performed well last year and made 31 saves in the season-opening defeat of the Avalanche.

Garon, 30, won 26 games last year, and on top of that, he's a bargain. He signed a two-year contract before last season and will be paid $1 million this season -- pocket change for an NHL starter.

After bouncing around for much of his career, Garon is hoping he's found a long-term home in Edmonton.

"From where I've been and what I've seen, there's always somebody who's going to say you're not that good, you're not a winner, stuff like that," Garon told the Canadian Press. "That's why I'm never satisfied and why I want to be better.

"The chance is there (with Edmonton). I read where (MacTavish) said I have the ball and I just have to run with it. That pretty much describes how it is."

Unlikely trade winner -- Last season, the Sharks and Sabres completed one of the most significant deals just before the NHL's trading deadline. The Sharks picked up the rushing defenseman they needed in Brian Campbell, in exchange giving the Sabres power forward Steve Bernier, one of San Jose's top young players.

"It's my job to defend our best players. You win or lose a fight, but at least you try to defend your teammates." -- Steve Bernier

But as the new season begins, neither of those players is with the team that acquired them last season. Campbell signed as a free agent with the Blackhawks over the summer, and Bernier was dealt by the Sabres to Vancouver for a couple draft picks.

Early returns on the Bernier deal have been positive for the Canucks, who needed any offensive boost they could find. Bernier is only 23, was the 16th pick in the 2005 Entry Draft and brings size and goal-scoring ability up front. Bernier scored the Canucks' second goal in their season-opening rout of the Flames and endeared himself to Vancouver fans by coming to the rescue of Henrik Sedin and fighting Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf.

"It was a big hit on one of the Sedins," Bernier told the Canadian Press. "I didn't realize it was him (Phaneuf) at first. It's my job to defend our best players. You win or lose a fight, but at least you try to defend your teammates."

Two nights later in the rematch with the Flames in Calgary, Bernier assisted on Daniel Sedin's third-period goal, which forced overtime.

Even beyond Bernier's good start, the Canucks had to be pleased with their strong start offensively. Their six goals in the opener matched last year's season high, achieved only three times, and they followed that with five goals the following game. The other significant offseason offensive addition besides Bernier was forward Pavol Demitra, who scored one goal in the season's first two games.

But before you start thinking of the Canucks as an offensive juggernaut, consider their performance in Monday's 5-1 loss at Washington. The Canucks, who scored 11 goals in the first two games, managed only 10 shots on goal against the Capitals.

Brotherly love -- You've heard of a no-trade clause, right? How about a "no-separation" clause? It's at least part of the conversation for the Sedin twins, who are negotiating new contracts with the Canucks.

According to the Vancouver Province, the Sedins might be willing to accept contracts that would not rule out the possibility of a trade, but that would force any team acquiring one to acquire both.

"There's many different ways to have trade-limitation clauses," the Sedins' agent, J.P. Barry, told the Province. "Obviously, that's going to be fully explored."

Going, going, Gaborik? -- The Wild continue to have a tough time reaching a deal with prospective free agent Marian Gaborik.

In fact, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Gaborik ultimately could be sent packing this season. For all his talent, Gaborik has been injury prone during his career and the Wild might not be willing to give him the deal he wants. Talks reportedly have not been making much progress.

The Star Tribune ruled out rumors that Gaborik could be headed to the division-rival Oilers.

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