Mike Keenan and goaltenders have never quite seen eye to eye.
The coach who earned the nickname Dr. Hook more than 20 years ago for the way he yanked goalies on a whim, Keenan looks to have done an about-face. He doesn’t know how to take Miikka Kiprusoff out of the crease.
The Calgary Flames season is now 13 games old and Keenan has yet to call upon backup Curtis McElhinney for a start or even mop-up duty. Doesn’t the coach realize the 82-game NHL season is a marathon and not a dash?
Doesn’t the coach realize wearing down Kiprusoff by the middle of November probably isn’t a good idea? Doesn’t the coach realize letting McElhinney freeze on the bench for more than a month doesn’t do a whole lot for his psyche and well-being?
There’s one excellent reason to start Kiprusoff 82 times this season: He’s Calgary’s best chance to win every game and in a competitive Western Conference with no real pushovers, the Flames need that advantage.
But there are many reasons why Keenan and the Flames need to start McElhinney sooner rather than later.
First, the team needs to test itself without its saviour in the crease. It could actually be a bonding experience for the entire group – you know, let’s win one for the unproven rookie. It’s amazing the extra effort that comes forth when there’s extra incentive.
Second, Kiprusoff needs a break. Come on, that’s obvious. Even if he’d never admit it. Starting goalies need a break, both physically and mentally.
Third, a different viewing perspective from the bench would be beneficial for Kiprusoff. It’s a good way to watch for tendencies in teammates and shooting angles for opponents.
Fourth, for the sake of McElhinney, get his first start of the season out of the way and reward him for his patience. It’s humane and the results could be encouraging.
We all thought McElhinney would get his first start last Saturday in Los Angeles or Sunday in Anaheim or Tuesday at home against Phoenix. Didn’t happen. Take a chance, coach and give him a shot against Nashville Thursday or Saturday in Columbus.
This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.
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