- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

For goalie Robert Muller, it wasn't exactly baptism by fire, but more like a guy trying to fight off hungry lions armed with only a rusty Swiss Army knife.
Nonetheless, the Washington Capitals rookie stood his ground during a training camp scrimmage Friday while Jaromir Jagr and Marian Havel broke in 2-on-0. Jagr carried the puck to the edge of the crease and passed to Havel who shot. Muller gloved the puck and wisely held on for a faceoff.
And there is some dispute whether that was even the best save of the day.
The Caps have a problem that every team would love to have a glut of healthy, promising goaltenders, a position that is anchored by one of the best in the game in Olie Kolzig.
In fact, the Caps are so deep at the position right now that the team doesn't have enough jobs in the organization for all its netminders, even after two are returned to their junior teams in Canada and Muller goes back to Mannheim in the German Elite League.
"Our goaltending is as strong as it's been in five years," said general manager George McPhee. It could easily be the strongest its been in the team's 28 seasons.
There is Kolzig and his backup, Craig Billington. There are two youngsters who will be trying to take away Billington's job, Sebastien Charpentier and Maxime Ouellet. There is Maxime Daigneault and Robert Gherson, both drafted last summer and both ticketed to return to their junior teams; there is Muller, drafted by the Caps a year ago; and Rastislav Stana, a 1998 draftee who has played the last two seasons for Richmond in the East Coast Hockey League.
Here is the problem: There are two slots with the Caps, two with their top farm team in Portland, Maine, and one in Richmond. Kolzig is No.1 without question. Billington is No.2 until somebody takes his job away, leaving Ouellet and Charpentier in Portland. Charpentier has served a good apprenticeship with the Pirates and deserves an NHL shot. Ouellet is four years younger than Charpentier and could probably benefit from a year in Portland but he might well challenge for Billington's job. Stana, who played for Slovakia with Peter Bondra when that country won the World Championship last spring, has learned all he is going to learn at the ECHL level and should be moved along for his and the team's benefit.
"[Goalie coach] Dave Prior has become more involved in drafting in recent years and as a result we're getting better results," McPhee said. Ouellet came from Philadelphia in the Adam Oates trade but Prior has had a hand in selecting the other youngsters and in the training of the entire complement.
"We didn't draft any goalies for three years but I think the two kids we drafted this summer are both good prospects," said Prior, careful not to favor one over another. "But I think a lot of goaltenders are coming to the draft a little better because they get better coaching than guys did when Olie played junior [in 1988]. Hopefully that allows you to speed up the process in terms of development but it's the long haul and consistency that determines how good a guy really is."
The glut has created other problems. If Billington loses his job and is traded to unload his salary, that would leave the Caps with an inexperienced goalie to backup Kolzig. If Billington loses his job and is sent to Portland, the Caps will lose his valuable leadership in their dressing room and still have to pay him an NHL salary. If Billington keeps his job, then there is a good chance there will be at least one unhappy camper in Portland.
And Muller? He'll return to Mannheim where he plays behind former Cap goalie Mike Rosati, and he'll occasionally see Marc Seliger, whom the Caps took in the 10th round of the 1993 draft and now plays for Nurnberg.
Stana? His nickname is "the Rat," and like his namesake he has learned to survive. He arrived at the Caps' 1998 training camp from Slovakia with not much more than the clothes on his back. He had no goalie equipment but has prospered through two years of Canadian junior and two years in the minors.

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