Goalies Plentiful, Roster Spots Are Not for Capitals.(SPORTS)

Article excerpt


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. …