The Calgary Flames enter a gruelling stretch of their lockout-shortened schedule with mystery swirling around the status of star goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Calgary's starting goalie sprained the medial collateral ligament in his knee during a game in Detroit on Feb. 5 and was subsequently placed on injured reserve.
General manager Jay Feaster claimed 33-year-old goalie Joey MacDonald off waivers from the Red Wings on Monday. The timing of the announcement was ominous because it came after Kiprusoff skated alone in the morning to test his knee.
Feaster did not speak to reporters Monday to explain the move that brought the number of Flames goaltenders to four. The GM signed minor-leaguer Danny Taylor to an NHL contract the day after Kiprusoff's injury to back up Leland Irving.
A Flames spokesman said Feaster would address the goaltending situation Tuesday.
Head coach Bob Hartley deferred player personnel queries Monday to his GM. Irvine and Taylor participated in Calgary's pre-game skate prior to hosting the Minnesota Wild, while MacDonald was scheduled to arrive in Calgary in the evening.
With or without their veteran starter, the pace goes from a trot to a gallop for Calgary, who had the kindest schedule the first three weeks of this abbreviated NHL season. While many NHL clubs have reached or passed the quarter pole, the Flames don't play their 12th game until Friday.
But starting Monday, the Flames faced five games in eight days and 10 in their next 17. Losing five of six to start the season put Calgary among the bottom teams in the Western Conference.
"We're not where we want to be in the standings, but we take advantage of those games in hand and we're moving up quickly," captain Jarome Iginla said. "Momentum is also a big part of that.
"We've got to get it going back in the right direction and start catching teams again. We do need to string some wins together, especially at home."
In addition to Kiprusoff's absence, Calgary is also minus forwards Sven Baertschi (hip flexor), Mike Cammalleri (hip flexor) and Mikael Backlund (knee).
While Backlund is out four to six weeks with a sprained MCL, Cammalleri and Baertschi are skating apart from the team.
"We definitely would like everybody to be healthy and we have guys out who are huge parts of our team," Iginla said. "But teams go through that and I've said earlier I think we are deeper than we have been for awhile."
"We just need to find ways to win games and when we get those guys back, it will be a big boost."
The Flames have a pair of three-game homestands in February, which eases the physical and mental burden of a condensed schedule.
"When you get a chance to catch a team that's in a tough stretch, you need to take advantage of it and teams are going to try and do that to us," Iginla said. "Being at home every second day isn't too bad and we need to make that count."
Calgary plays the Wild three times and faces Dallas and Phoenix twice before month's end. The Flames host the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 20, which means former Flames GM Darryl Sutter will be back in town behind the Kings bench.
"We need to collect our wins because we're going to go up in the pack and that's where we want to be," Hartley said. "We don't want to fall too far behind. Just by experience, when you're relying on the last five games and it's all jam-packed, even though you win some games, sometimes you don't even make ground.
"We can't have the attitude that 'as long as we play OK, we're going to have a shot.' That would be the wrong attitude. That's certainly not the message we're giving our guys right now."
Irvine, a first-round draft pick in 2006, beat incumbent backup Henrik Karlsson out a job in January's training camp. He played the third period of Calgary's 4-1 win in Detroit, picked up a 4-3 overtime win in Columbus and took the 5-1 loss in Vancouver in his first three appearances this season.
MacDonald, from Pictou, N.S., had an 8-5-1 record, a 2.16 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage for Detroit last season. His career record in 101 games with Detroit, Boston, Toronto and the New York Islanders is 31-48-0-13 with a .903 save percentage and a 3.04 GAA.