There have been a few of what he sarcastically calls "masterpieces" this season, but for the most part goalie Don Beaupre has been one of the most consistent performers in an inconsistent Washington Capitals' season.
Because of that, the Capitals' goaltending situation has evolved into a case of No. 1 and No. 2, with Beaupre handling most of the work and Mike Liut in reserve.
"When you're trying to get yourselves back in the race, you want to go with the player, who . . . well, he's what I consider my No. 1 goalie," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said yesterday. "That doesn't mean Mike Liut is on the back of the shelf. I want him to continue to work hard in situations and we'll see how things go."
Beaupre has started seven straight games and nine of the last 10, including Friday night's 6-3 victory over Edmonton. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he will start again today when the Capitals play the Philadephia Flyers at 1:35 at Capital Centre.
"If you need points, then you stick with something that's going, but things can turn sometimes too," said Beaupre, who appreciates Liut's continued support. "Right now, it's my time and I want to keep going. Every game you want to play well enough to get another start."
Beaupre's record is 12-13-2, but his goals-against average of 2.88 is among the best in the league. While he has started 14 of the last 17 games, there was also a month with no games because of a pulled groin.
In only eight of Beaupre's 29 starts has he allowed more than three goals, though Murray pulled him after three quick goals in what was eventually a 7-3 loss in St. Louis. Two nights later in Minnesota, there was an ugly 5-2 loss. But games like those generally have been the exceptions.
"Right now, Donnie's playing real well and he's played well all year," Murray said. "There have been a couple he might like back to play over, but the overall performance has been very strong and he's make that big save. I hope he continues to play real well and we can get ourselves into the thick of the Patrick Division race."
Beaupre's goals-against average has never been above 3.00 this season. While that might be some consolation, there were nights when good performances ended up as losses because of a defensive lapse or not enough offense. Beaupre has broken a couple of sticks in frustration.
"If somebody looks at the stats and says, 'He's got good stats but he can't win,' I don't want to get tagged with that," Beaupre said. "I'd rather have a 3.25 and better won-lost record. But you know you're in the game and you've got to look at it positively. Most of the season, I let management worry about the wins and losses and I just try to play as well as I can. If I worried too much, I'd be in the dumper. But when you get to this time of year, you've got to start thinking about wins and losses and find that little extra."
Liut, who turned 35 on Jan. 7, said early in the season that he thought Beaupre might eventually play more, though he would probably prefer a pattern of alternating than the current system.
Liut's record is 10-14-1, with a goals-against average of 3.82. Since New Year's, he's had just three starts -- a win in Boston and losses in Montreal and Philadelphia -- and he was saddled with the loss in relief against the Blues.
"You never know when you're going to play, so you try to stay involved," Liut said of any difference in how he approaches practices now. "It's not easy, but you keep plugging."
Liut arrived on March 5, 1990 from Hartford and was a big part of why the Capitals enjoyed more playoff success than they ever had. In the division finals against the Rangers, Liut was 3-1 with a 2.94 goals-against average.
Murray and Liut met recently to discuss the situation. However much he disliked it, Liut took it like a professional.
"It's like a referee's call," Liut said of Murray's decision. "It's a judgment call and it's hard to argue with a judgment call. It's his job to make the decision and it's our job to execute it."