Only one goaltender at a time can play for the Washington Capitals, and right now that goalie seems to be Rick Tabaracci.
Tabaracci is leading the NHL with a 2.00 goals-against average, which might seem to make him the obvious choice. But since the Capitals have overcome their 0-6 start this season, goalie Don Beaupre also has been playing well. He has a five-game winning streak and a 2.22 GAA in those games.
But Tabaracci, 4-3 since returning from a preseason knee injury, has played in five of the past six games.
When Capitals coach Terry Murray was asked if Tabaracci is the No. 1 goalie, he said, "It looks like he is making big strides that way." But Murray added it is too early to tell.
"We didn't get a chance to see Rick play early this season because of his injury," Murray said. "I want to find out now if he has the ability to carry the load. I want to know if he can grab the ball and run with it. This is an opportunity for us to find out."
In the meantime, Beaupre, who has this season and an option year left on his contract, sits and waits.
Murray wouldn't say yesterday who would start in Pittsburgh tonight, but indicated Washington's back-to-back losses to the New York Rangers and the San Jose Sharks with Tabaracci in goal were not a factor in the decision. Tabaracci played well in both games.
"I know Donnie has a five-game winning streak and has been playing well, and I know it is a tough situation for him, but he has to handle it," Murray said. "Only one can play, and that's the decision I make as coach. We pay Donnie Beaupre a big contract that shows we have a lot of confidence in him. I want them both to do well, because then I do well."
Murray describes the situation as no different from that of moving center Michal Pivonka to right wing on the fourth line and inserting Pat Peake at center on the first line to see if Peake can get the job done.
But there seems to be a difference. Pivonka has only one goal in 18 games. His removal to the fourth line is as much, if not more, because of that as it is to see Peake work.
Tabaracci says it is a matter of who's playing when the team is going well.
"I don't think I'm being tested any more," said Tabaracci, who was traded by Winnipeg to the Capitals last March. "I think they've seen me play and they're comfortable with the way I've been playing -- even though right now our whole team is struggling. . . . But I'm comfortable with the way I've been playing, and I think if I'm happy, they will be, too."
In the meantime, Beaupre agrees with Murray about being in a tough situation. "But after going through that 0-6 start and then turning it around, starting to play better and getting some wins and then not to be able to get in the net, it is frustrating," Beaupre said. "I feel, eventually, I'll get in. I'll sit and wait -- but I'mnot going to wait all year."
Beaupre played 58 regular-season games last season and 54 the year before. He said he does not know if he is good playing every fifth or seventh game.
"I don't know if that's how it is going to be, but right now that's how it is looking," he said. "Rick's played great. He has a great goals-against average, but he wasn't here when we were going 0-6. I'd like to get my stats down, too."
At the start of this season, when the Capitals were giving up an average of six goals a game, Beaupre's GAA ballooned and he started 0-4. Now he is 5-4 with a GAA of 3.97.
What could complicate the issue is that Murray has said rookie goalie Olie Kolzig has earned the right to remain in the picture when he returns from his kneecap injury. That could mean Washington will have another young goalie competing for a position where only one can play at a time.