Goaltender Jim Bedard, sent into battle once too often by the Washington Capitals, was sent elsewhere yesterday, to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.
The official word was that Bedard was demoted to regain his confidence. That important item for a goalie was stripped from Bedard by a combination of ineffective play and repeated criticism of "soft goals" by Coach Danny Belisle.
After being blasted, 9-4, by the New York Rangers and 5-3 by the Pittsburgh Penguins in his previous two starts, Bedard nevertheless was used against Pittsburgh Friday night at Capital Centre. He was ineffective once again, as Washington blew a 3-1 lead and lost a vital game, 7-4. For a topper, disgruntled fans chanted "Bernie, Ber-nie" in a futile request for backup Bernie Wolfe.
The fans were given Wolfe and Bedard's temporary replacement, Rollie Boutin, last night, via television from St. Louis. Boutin, after a slow start in Hershey, has posted a 3.62 goals-against mark in 13 games. While Bedard was suffering Friday night, Boutin was blocking 37 shots in Philadelphia, five during a five-minute overtime period, as Hershey tied the Firebirds, 4-4.
General Manager Max McNab obviously was hoping that Boutin would effect the same hot start in NHL play that Bedard made last year. Brought up from Hershey in December, Bedard had a 3.66 average in 43 games.
This season Bedard's average ballooned to 4.32, moving steadily upward after a brilliant opening-game effort in a 4-2 victory at Los Angeles.
After Friday's game, Bedard, normally affable even in defeat, marched from the shower with head down, dressed quickly and left.
Yesterday, as the team left for St. Louis, Bedard was driving up interstate 83 for a return trip to Chocolate Town.
"It was mutually agreed that it would be a great deal easier if he worked on his game out of the pressure cooker," McNab said. "In the last few weeks, Jim has been off his usual game. Last year, he had a spell of similar trouble and battled his way out of it. This year he wasn't able to do it. Our concern is that he not lose confidence in himself."
It was apparent in the two games against Pittsburgh that the Capitals would have won with good goaltending, no matter their other faults. It is also apparent that they will not win often with bad goaltending.
Unless Wolfe shows dramatic improvement, Boutin becomes an instant success or Bedard comes back in two weeks with ego and execution restored, McNab must dig into his package of draft choices and deal for a goalie. That would be a calamity for McNab, who felt in September that the nets were the club's one area of unconcern.