It looked like any other day at practice for the Washington Capitals. Olie Kolzig, the team's No. 1 goalie for 10 seasons, was at one end of the ice with Brent Johnson, his backup for three years, at the other.
But yesterday was the final salvo for status quo in the Caps' goaltending situation. Cristobal Huet, acquired before Tuesday's trade deadline, arrived at practice and met his new teammates before leaving for a physical and returning in early afternoon to field questions from the media.
Starting with this morning's practice and Washington's game tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils in Newark, coach Bruce Boudreau's people-managing skills will be put to the test with three goaltenders on his roster.
"We've got a plan, but we don't know if it is good, bad or indifferent," Boudreau said. "We haven't talked to any of the goalies about it yet. We'll talk to them about it once they're all practicing, and we'll settle it then."
Kolzig is not accustomed to sitting when healthy, and he made his case to play tomorrow night with a 34-save performance Tuesday against Minnesota. Though his goals-against average and save percentage have suffered this season, his 22 wins match his total from last year and surpass those from the two previous campaigns.
The 37-year-old is also playing better now than he has at any point during Boudreau's regime, yielding two goals or fewer in five of his past six outings.
"I am just going to play my game," he said. "If it is good enough, I'll play. If not then someone else will."
Huet has been Montreal's No. 1 guy for much of the past two seasons, but injuries and the arrival of heralded Carey Price have held him back. When Price was sent to the minors after a 5-4 home loss to Washington in early January, Huet made 13 straight starts.
But since Price's return, coach Guy Carbonneau has deployed a win-and-you're-in rotation. When Price lost Saturday to Columbus but Huet learned the 20-year-old would get another start, he thought something might be up.
"It was not easy, but you have to understand a little bit about the situation," Huet said. "They are very high on Carey and my contract was up, so I just tried to help myself and the team play well when I had to, and I did that for most of the season."
Although the Caps' crowded situation could make for some awkward moments, Huet said he appreciated the warm reception Kolzig and Johnson gave him.
"You try to make him feel as comfortable as possible," Kolzig said. "It wasn't his decision to come here, and he's obviously in an awkward spot. You try to make him feel as part of the team right away."
Boudreau must figure out a way to keep his two No. 1 goaltenders happy, but he also cannot forget about Johnson. Save for a bit of a stinker last week against Florida, Johnson has performed better for Boudreau than he had at any point during Glen Hanlon's tenure.
Johnson has a stopped at least 90 percent of the shots he has seen in nine of his 11 games for Boudreau. He is also the only one of the three under contract beyond this season.
"[Olie] is the backbone of this organization," Johnson said. "You can ask anyone and they'll you tell the same thing — when you think of the Washington Capitals, you think of Olie Kolzig. Huet is another starting goaltender in this league and proven a bit. It is just one of those things where I think I am probably the odd man out, and I am sure other people do, too."
Plenty of NHL teams have used a two-goaltender rotation. Teams like Anaheim and San Jose have done it with success in recent seasons, but other franchises (Ottawa this year, for instance) have not been so successful.
Though that may be true, there is not a lot of precedence for a three-goalie system. Phoenix had three on the roster earlier this season, but the Coyotes didn't have any starting-quality netminders at that point. Once they picked up Ilya Bryzgalov, it quickly became a one-man show.
"It might be a problem juggling it and trying to keep everyone happy, but we're going to do what it takes to win," Boudreau said.