Tabaracci drops stick, picks up reaction skills

January 24, 1995|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

QUEBEC -- The hard work was supposedly over. The Washington Capitals had finished an up-tempo 45-minute workout and could leave the ice if they wanted to.

But it was at that point that Rick Tabaracci laid his goaltending stick across the top of the net, turned around and got into his goaltending stance.

His teammates lined up at the blue line, barely restraining their glee.

Fun was about to happen. It was like lining up at a carnival shooting gallery. Three shots for a dollar. Only this time the only one who was going to pay was Tabaracci.

The shots came in waves, as the goalie bobbed, weaved, grasped and dived for the flying pucks.

"It was a lot of shots," said Tabaracci, breathless at the end. "They were helping me with my reactions. If I have a stick, there aren't many rebounds. It makes it harder on me. You have to get up and down quicker."

Tabaracci will want to get up and down as quickly as possible tonight, when he gets his first start of the season against the powerful Quebec Nordiques.

Last week, the Caps traded their all-time winningest goaltender, Don Beaupre, to Ottawa, placing the Caps' hopes for immediate success squarely on the shoulders of their two young goalies: Tabaracci, who has experience in parts of the previous five seasons, and Olie Kolzig, who has played in 11 NHL games.

When the Caps opened the lockout-shortened season Saturday in Hartford, it was the unproven Kolzig in net. The 24-year-old made 21 saves and wound up with a 1-1 tie in a solid performance.

That might seem to put added pressure on Tabaracci tonight, but neither he nor Caps coach Jim Schoenfeld sees it that way.

"It's not a fight for a job on the team right now," said Tabaracci. "Obviously, we both want to play a lot of hockey. We keep it competitive, but we also keep it on a real good friendly level. We're friends. What we've got to do is help each other as partners.

"It's up to Olie and I with Donnie gone, but I want him to succeed and he wants me to succeed. In order for us to win we've got to have both guys going real well."

In the past, Tabaracci has come away from Le Colisee with mixed results, having scored his first NHL shutout here in February 1991 as a Winnipeg Jet, but also having gotten the hook here after giving up five goals in the first 31 minutes of a Caps loss Dec. 13, 1993.

But during the not-so-long-ago preseason, Tabaracci played two games and both were against Quebec, a team picked to be a legitimate challenger for the Stanley Cup.

With Tabaracci exhibiting cat-like quickness, the Caps won both games, 6-1 and 4-2.

"I still feel like I did in training camp," he said, recalling that much of the past two years he has been encumbered by knee injuries and the braces they necessitated. "I feel better than I have for several years. I feel agile in the net again. I'm able to do the things I feel I have to do to be as strong as I can be."

Schoenfeld said Tabaracci can't afford to worry about the performance of Kolzig or anyone else.

"He has to get ready for the game in his own way," Schoenfeld said. "He's got to worry about his own performance.

"He's a pro and knows how to do that. That will be his focus.

"It was Rick's idea to have the drill without a stick at the end of practice because he felt he needed work on reading rebounds, making tips and having good body position. And that's what I mean when I say he'll get ready in his own way. That's what he wanted to work on."

The major difference between Kolzig and Tabaracci is that Tabaracci handles the puck better with his stick. Kolzig stands up big in the net, making the save and knocking the puck away to a harmless corner.

Tabaracci likes to roam from the net. He handles the puck pretty well off the boards, according to his coach and teammates, and is able to bank it into the neutral zone.

While a benefit, it also causes Schoenfeld to voice a note of warning to his forwards.

"With Rick playing that way, being able to get us out of trouble, there will be a tendency for the forwards to hold up a bit, to give Rick time to get the puck, instead of hustling back to get it themselves," he said. "Now it's OK sometimes, but it can become a lazy habit and it's a fine line between what becomes productive and what is passing their burden on to the goaltender."

NOTES: The Caps will dress the same 20 players for this game, leaving rookie D Ken Klee and forwards Randy Burridge, Todd Krygier, Kevin Kaminski and Jason Allison on the sidelines. . . . Schoenfeld noted the reason for using a number of different line combinations with Joe Juneau on Saturday was to keep the center on the ice. He said he was satisfied with the chances Juneau got with Dimitri Khristich and Rob Pearson and would at least start them together tonight. "If they keep getting that many chances, they [goals] are going to start going in," he said.


Opponent: Quebec Nordiques

Site: Le Colisee, Quebec

Time: 7:30

Radio: WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: The Nordiques opened with a 3-1 win in Philadelphia. G Stephane Fiset was in the net for that victory and is expected to be in goal tonight. Fiset is 1-3 with a 4.93 goals-against average lifetime vs. the Capitals after going 1-1 against them last season. Washington can look forward to trying to stop a potent offensive attack from rookie Peter Forsberg, Wendel Clark and Joe Sakic. G Rick Tabaracci will start for the Caps, who are injury-free. Quebec lists D Alexei Gusarov (leg) as probable and C Claude Lapointe (back) as doubtful.

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