The identity of the Washington Capitals' starting goaltender is the major question as the Capitals and New York Rangers prepare for Game 2 of the Patrick Division final series tonight at soldout Capital Centre.
Coach Bryan Murray, who waxed indignant after Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss when he was asked if Pete Peeters would be replaced by Al Jensen, wasn't so adamant yesterday.
Murray acknowledged he was "thinking of something" in the area of a personnel change. He declined to be specific and refused to rule out the possibility that such a change might involve the team's goaltender.
It is a difficult decision for Murray. If he switches to Jensen, who has not played since March 29, he risks a rusty performance, a 2-0 deficit and the disruption of Peeters' confidence.
Peeters was outstanding in three straight victories over the New York Islanders, allowing a total of four goals, and he did not permit any soft scores Thursday. But he is 0-3-1 against the Rangers this season, allowing 19 goals in four games. Jensen is 3-0 with two shutouts and two goals allowed.
What makes the decision a bit easier is the excellent relationship between Peeters and Jensen. They like each other, are supportive of each other and are more interested in team victory than their egos.
Asked whether he would be upset if Jensen was given the assignment tonight, Peeters said, "No, it won't ruffle my feathers. I want to win and that comes first. I mean that sincerely. It's a management decision and, if they choose Al, I'll support him in every way I can."
Asked about a possible start, Jensen said, "Pete has been playing very well. He's been on a roll and I don't know if I will get a chance. Obviously, anybody would want to play. But I realize my situation. I have to be patient.
"As long as we win, that's what counts. We can be a Stanley Cup champion and I'd love to get that ring on my finger, whether I play a few games or a lot of games."
If Murray does make a change, he emphasized it would not be because he was unduly influenced by regular season results.
"I don't put a lot in that," Murray said. "A good goaltender plays well against anybody. You play the goaltender on your hockey team who at a particular time is playing well. You play the guy you think is a good goaltender. We have two good goaltenders."
Asked whether he had any reluctance to use Jensen after such a long layoff, Murray said, "Absolutely not. Al is healthy now and, given the chance, he will play very well."
Warren Strelow, the Capitals' goaltender coach, said, "We wanted to establish one guy and that's what we've done. We have another good guy and we're not at all afraid to use him. Al has had a great year and we have a lot of confidence in him.
"Al is a pro and I'm sure he's disappointed that he isn't playing. Unfortunately, at that position you only play one guy -- hopefully, anyway."
Of the two goalies' records against the Rangers, Strelow said, "I don't know when it comes to the playoffs if it makes any difference. Pete had trouble with the Islanders in the past and he played three super games against them.
"The big thing in making a decision like this is that the two guys are for each other and get along well. We haven't had that before."
Defenseman Rod Langway said the team plays the same way in front of each goaltender.
"We've done it all year," Langway said. "It's a nice thing now, because there are no hard feelings from one guy or the other. Pete's done his job very well all year and, put in a position to play, Al will give 100 percent."
Jensen last played in a 6-6 tie in Hartford March 29. A few days later, he reported a slight twinge in his back and Murray decided to bypass him for the April 5 game against the Rangers here, when New York scored twice on Peeters in the last two minutes to earn a 4-4 tie.
Jensen was taken aback by a media blitz yesterday, as a horde of reporters pinned him in his dressing room stall after practice. Peeters, by contrast, refused to be pinned down, declined requests for in-depth interviews and generally left the New York media upset with him.
"I guess I didn't handle that very well, but I just don't like talking about myself," Peeters said. "I enjoy playing and I like to let my play talk for me.
"I like to be out on the ice. I like the feeling in the dressing room, and I enjoy being with my teammates, having fun with them. Management here has been great, unbelievable. I thought Philly's management was great, but this is even better.
"The one thing I don't like about the job is talking about myself in front of a crowd of reporters. I know they have a job to do, and I like to have them write favorable stories about me, but I don't feel comfortable in that situation."
Meanwhile, the sub-.500 Rangers were secure in the knowledge that John Vanbiesbrouck would be back in goal. They also were reveling in their role of giant killers.
"Everybody's written us off," said defenseman Willie Huber. "We're not supposed to be as good a team as the Flyers or Caps. But we're playing pretty well right now. We're loose in the dressing room, and I think we're a force to be reckoned with."
"We're just getting better, and if you peak at the right time in the NHL playoffs, you're going to go a long way," said winger Brian MacLellan.