Calgary Flames improve on some fronts, but defence a work in progress

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CALGARY - Coach Mike Keenan's wish list prior to this NHL season was that his Calgary Flames improve on special teams and cut down on their goals against.

Their third game of the regular season Tuesday produced a breakthrough in the first department. After going 0-for-13 on the power play to start the season, the Flames produced three goals with the man advantage in a 5-4 win over Colorado.

But Flames have allowed a league-high 15 goals in three games, in which they're 1-1-1.

"We'd like to go a couple games where you give up two goals or less," winger Craig Conroy said Wednesday . "You feel like if you do that, we're going to win a lot of games.

"We've got to get better defensively. A few mistakes and they've cost us."

The play of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff is an elephant in the room as his teammates would never speak negatively about a person so key to their success. But the Finn is prepared to take a share of the blame for the large number of goals his team has given up.

"We've been able to get some points even with pretty average goaltending, so when I do better and we can do a better job in our own zone, it's good," Kiprusoff said.

"It's the team play and it's goaltending going hand in hand. I know I can do better and when I do, we're able to win some big games."

Calgary hosts the Oilers on Friday and is in Edmonton for a rematch Saturday.

The Flames' fortunes lie heavily on Kiprusoff, the 2006 Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goaltender. In his first two seasons in Calgary, he made the club one of the stingiest in its own end.

Kiprusoff's numbers last season were not up to the standards he'd set in a Flames uniform. And now in the first year of a US$35-million, six-year contract extension signed almost a year ago, expectations of him are as high as they've ever been.

"I've never seen a team win the Stanley Cup with bad goaltending," Kiprusoff said.

Conroy says Kiprusoff isn't to blame for Calgary's shortcomings on defence.

"It's hard. He's trying to get used to everybody in front of him and the defence hasn't helped him a lot," Conroy said. "If we can do some more work for him it will make his job easier."

Both Keenan and Conroy point to players overcompensating behind Calgary's blue-line and swinging out of position, which has led to sagging and holes around Kiprusoff's crease.

"You see five guys back, but we're all back too low and they're hitting late guys coming in and that's where they're getting their breaks," Conroy said.

"We've been scored on a lot, so we're overworking to get back and if we just pick up guys on the way back, we're going to be better off."

Added Keenan: "We've really left (Kiprusoff) open in a lot of instances. If we can just get them to trust each other a little bit more and simplify their game within the group, it comes down to doing your own job and not trying to do somebody else's job for them.

"You're going to have breakdowns. That's the nature of the game, but when there are, we have to come up with solutions of support. Until that happens, don't open yourself up defensively without reason."

Keenan assigned forward Mike Cammalleri, acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the off-season, to play point on the power play Tuesday and he assisted on the three goals.

"He didn't expose himself, which is the No.1 thing for a forward back here," Keenan said. "He has good puck sense and control and a feel for open people and not only that, he's a shooter.

"Our power play has come to life, but we're a little suspect in defensive zone coverage."

Flames captain Jarome Iginla did not skate Wednesday and Keenan called it a "maintenance day."

Iginla had a goal, assist and a fight after the first period with the Avs' Cody McCormick the previous night.

"A well-trained athlete such as Jerome, it never hurts to give him a day off, when he's coming through some battles like he's had the last three games," Keenan said.



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