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  Few Conclusions From Carey
By Len Hochberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 3, 1996; Page F05


Carey Watches Lemieux Score For the second time in two seasons, Jim Carey was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, but questions continue as to whether or not he's a playoff goaltender.
(John McDonnell/Post File Photo)
The question is out there, and it will stay out there, at least for another year, maybe longer. It will stay out there until Washington Capitals star goaltender Jim Carey answers it: What happened to him in the playoffs? Again.

Yesterday, for the second time in his two NHL seasons, Carey was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the league's top goaltender. But he came up short against the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second straight postseason, leading some to ponder if he's a playoff goaltender at all; if, at age 21, he's not a playoff goaltender yet; if the powerhouse Penguins have his number; or, if it's the combination of Pittsburgh and the postseason.

"I don't know," Carey said the other day. "I haven't played another team in the playoffs so I can't tell you. . . .

"If we face them again next year, I'm definitely going to have to analyze them or do something. There's not too many goaltenders that have solved them. Name a goaltender that's got a winning record against them. I bet you can do it on one hand."

Carey has had two stellar regular seasons -- then run into hockey's top offensive club in both playoffs. Statistically, he was worse this postseason than last.

In 1995, he was 2-4 with a 4.19 goals-against average. In the six-game series that ended on Sunday, he was 0-2 with a 6.19 GAA and an NHL-worst .744 save percentage (10 goals on 39 shots). In comparison, backup goaltender Olaf Kolzig gave up 11 goals on 167 shots.

"I still do not buy into this Pittsburgh Penguin thing," Coach Jim Schoenfeld said. What about a playoff thing? "It was this year. I don't think it's something that will be a perennial postseason thing. . . . He's a young kid."

Said Kolzig: "Even though he's had a great two years of hockey, you have to remember he's still 21 years old. I'm 26 and I've had a little more experience at the pro level. He's going to bounce back from this, no problem. It's one of those experience things: You have to go through it to get better."

Carey was pulled after yielding four goals to the Penguins by midway through Game 1 (which Kolzig won in relief). Carey gave up four in a complete Game 3, then yielded two before exiting just six minutes into Sunday's series clincher.

"Maybe I make them look better than they are," Carey said. "I've played them probably 15, 20 times in my short career. . . . They're scoring low, they're scoring high, they're scoring on breakaways, they're scoring on 2-on-1s, lateral, up and down. I can't think of one particular type shot. You look at the two goals [by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr] in Game 6. They were both low goals. That's my strength -- low."

Said Schoenfeld, pooh-poohing all the analysis: "I don't want to make more of this then what there is, because right now there's nothing yet. There is not enough repetition to see a trend here. The kid didn't do as well as we expected him to do, didn't do as well as he expected to do. Next time he will. . . .

"It could be, `I just had a bad week.' We all have bad days. Some people have bad months. Some people have an off life."

One of the things that has made Carey so successful in his two seasons with the Capitals is that he makes it hard to remember that he's not far removed from his teenage years. He's so tenacious in goal, so composed. And the more stoic he was, the less assured his opponents became. But the Penguins, with Lemieux, Jagr, etc., seemingly never cower from any goaltender.

"Every goalie's got a team in the NHL that he has trouble with," Kolzig said. "Right now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the team that Jimmy has trouble with. He seems to do well against everybody else. For me, it's the Toronto Maple Leafs."

Carey was 1-3 against Pittsburgh in the regular season, but he never allowed more than three goals in a game. That's a virtual standoff.

On the other hand, the Penguins may not be at their best during the regular season because, as Carey said, they seemingly clinch a playoff berth in "mid-December." The postseason is different, and the Capitals have met the Penguins in five of the past six playoffs.

"Maybe just to get a roll going, it would be better to face them in the second round," Carey said. "Maybe it's our destiny we're going to face these guys the next three years in a row and the one time we get by them we're going to go all the way. Our confidence level should skyrocket after we beat these guys."

During the regular season, Carey led the NHL with nine shutouts, was second in wins with 35 and was third with a 2.26 GAA. He was at his best under pressure, winning the NHL player of the month award in March -- with five shutouts -- as injuries consumed the Capitals.

"The prior month and a half I had been playing well," Carey said. "Whether it's just Pittsburgh or what, there's no more pressure in [playoff] games like that. It's almost like the pressure was taken off because we'd gotten here. We were the underdogs. There's no pressure on you to win."

That was the exact scenario last year, too, when Carey said the Capitals could lose three of seven games and still advance. Interestingly, he may need pressure to perform at his best.

Carey was at Piney Orchard Ice Arena on Tuesday for his season-ending meetings with General Manager David Poile and Schoenfeld and the coaching staff. Perhaps, at the start of the offseason, they began to try to figure all this out.

"I think this is where I make a lot of my strides," Carey said. "This is where I improve, over the summer. I look back and see what I did wrong, see what I did well, go from there."

Carey will have a busy summer. He will get married in July, then represent the United States in the World Cup in late August. So he could do a lot more maturing before he attends training camp in September, by which time he will be all of 22.

"He's a young kid that's still growing. He's not infallible," Schoenfeld said. "He's going to make mistakes. He's going to have nervous moments. He's going to have a time where things overwhelm him. But I think his history has shown that he will find a way to work through that and he will, in time, be a guy that's going to lead this team not into -- but through -- the playoffs."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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