CALGARY — For the first time in nearly a decade, the Calgary Flames have an opening at starting goaltender and Karri Ramo solidified his position as one of the favourites Monday night.
In his home-ice debut the 27-year-old Finn made 27 saves as the Flames, led by Matt Stajan’s goal and two assists, won 4-1 over the New York Rangers at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
It was the third and final appearance of the pre-season for Ramo, who signed with the Flames this summer after playing the past four years in the KHL. His arrival in Calgary couldn’t have been better timed after longtime Flames goaltender and fellow Finn Miikka Kiprusoff retired.
It was the second straight strong outing for Ramo. Last Tuesday, the Finn made 21 saves in a win over the New York Islanders.
“I’ve felt better and better as the games have been going on,” Ramo said. “Two and a half games, it’s getting yourself into game shape, getting your head into the games again.”
His last two games have helped him forget his inauspicious debut Sept. 14 when he gave up four goals on 17 shots in a half-game against Edmonton.
“Edmonton was a hard game but that happens, it’s hockey,” Ramo said. “Obviously, it’s nice to play first home game and get a win. It’s a good feeling.”
It was a quiet night to begin with the Rangers testing Ramo just six times in the first period, none of them dangerous. That changed in the second as New York peppered him with 16 shots but only Marc Staal on a bouncing puck was able to swat one by the 2004 sixth-round draft pick.
“In the second we were very sloppy and he came up with some key point-blank saves,” said Stajan about Ramo.
“Those are the saves that change momentum and keeps our team in it and we were able to get that third one and take over the game again.”
Tasked with making the decision of who will be Calgary’s starter is coach Bob Hartley. The two other candidates are 33-year-old Joey MacDonald and Reto Berra, who will start the Flames final pre-season game on Wednesday.
“Karri gave us a very big game. He was solid. He came up with the big saves at the right time. I felt he protected the front of the net very well,” Hartley said. “The thing that I want to see from him is he felt confident on every shot that he faced.”
After he was drafted by Tampa Bay, Ramo spend parts of three seasons with the Lightning from 2006 to 2009, compiling a 11-21-10 record, 3.35 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.
“What’s important about Karri is he has a certain advantage because he was in Tampa Bay a few years ago so he’s got a feel for it,” Hartley said. “This is not a surprise for him to come into Calgary and adjust. Obviously there is a period of adjustment from the KHL to this but it’s something he at least has a taste for.”
In a game in which both teams dressed a bunch of forwards that are fighting for jobs, the best line on either team was made up of three veterans — Stajan between Curtis Glencross and Lee Stempniak.
“I’m excited. I want to be a guy that you can count on and be a leader for the young guys. I want to take advantage of any opportunity I get,” said Stajan, coming off a bounce-back season last year.
“Bob and his coaching staff gave me the chance to play key minutes and get my confidence back and they put trust in me right away where, for some reason, trust had been lost with the previous coaching staff. I just want to build on that and move forward and never be satisfied. I just want to get better and better.”
Stajan is in the final year of his contract that will leave him an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
Glencross finished with a goal, an assist and a fight. Defenceman Dennis Wideman added his fourth goal, tying him for the league lead. Scoring into an empty net for Calgary (4-2-0) was Lance Bouma.
Staal had the lone goal for New York (1-2-0).
Notes: The Rangers began a stretch of four games in five days. … Notable scratches for New York, who have 39 players in camp, included forwards Ryan Callahan, Derick Brassard and restricted free agent Derek Stepan, who is still holding out. Missing from the blue-line were Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. … Notable Flames absentees were Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler, who are both injured, and Sven Baertschi… The Flames wrap up the pre-season Wednesday against Phoenix.