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Huet Helps Caps to Postseason

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Upon arriving in Washington, Huet and Kolzig initially split the netminding chores. Both performed well, and the Capitals began to make inroads in their late-season charge for a playoff berth. After Kolzig was in goal for a 5-0 loss at Chicago on Mar. 19, Huet was between the pipes for Washington’s comeback win in Atlanta on Mar. 21. That was the first of seven straight wins for the Caps – their longest winning streak in more than 15 years – and Huet has been in goal for each of them.

“He’s been pretty good,” understates Boudreau. “Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. For the first eight games here him and Olie were playing pretty well an even amount and they both had the same numbers. And then when [he won] two in a row, and then he just kept getting better and better and better.

“No slight against Olie – because if he has to go in then I don’t feel like we’ve lost a step – but Huet’s been unbelievable, and making the right save at the right time. And for him, I think it’s a good time for him to be doing it as well.”

A pending unrestricted free agent this summer, Huet’s hot streak timing is good. It’s been pretty good from Washington’s standpoint, too.

In his 13 starts as a Capital, Huet is 11-2 with two shutouts, a 1.63 goals against average and a .936 save pct. He has allowed just 10 even-strength goals in those 13 contests.

Including his numbers with Montreal, Huet finished the 2007-08 season with career highs in starts (51) and wins (32). He finished sixth in the league with .920 save pct. Of the five goalies who finished ahead of him, only two (Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Boston’s Tim Thomas) played more games than Huet’s 52.

Huet is humble when asked about his success.

“We have young guys, an easygoing group of guys,” he says. “We had a target since the trade, and we’ve been on a mission since then. It makes it a lot easier to play and to compete every night.

“We have success, but you can’t do that by yourself. We’ve been playing well and I’m part of that. I think the team is playing so well that it makes it easy on me.”

Huet’s game and demeanor are both quieter than those of Kolzig, but both goaltenders are very competitive. Huet does not have Kolzig’s size, but the 32-year-old has a quick glove hand and is a solid technician. There is economy and little wasted motion in his game, and he rarely leaves juicy rebounds in the slot.

Huet also roams a bit more than Kolzig, and likes to play the puck here and there.

“He’s so calm with the puck that as a player you don’t really panic and that’s really good,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “A lot of times when the goalie kind of rushes out there and is looking around and doesn’t know what to do, you kind of panic as a player and don’t know where to go. But with Huet, he is so calm you know he is going to put it to either corner perfect for you.”

Getting used to a new bunch of blueliners in front of him has been one of the biggest adjustments Huet has faced since his arrival in the District.

“That’s definitely the hardest thing I think for a goalie coming up with a new team,” he says, when asked about communicating with his defensemen. “There is still room for improvement, I think. It comes down to basics. It’s been working out pretty good.”

“I think with Huey it’s been pretty easy,” says blueliner John Erskine. “He’s an amazing goalie and everyone has confidence with him. Sometimes it’s hard when you get goalies who like to play the puck all the time. He plays kind of the same style as Olie and Johnny, so it’s pretty easy.

“I played with [Marty] Turco [in Dallas] and I played with [Rick] DiPietro [with the Islanders]. When I played with them we don’t even go back. You just peel off to the corner and they dish it off to you. If I see [Huet] get the puck, I’ll dish off to the corner. He likes to do that. But he doesn’t overplay the puck so it’s easy.

Growing up in France, Huet was able to follow the NHL from afar as a boy, and he saw his first live NHL game as a 13-year-old playing in a peewee tournament in Quebec.

“I would say a guy like Patrick Roy whose style was an inspiration for a lot of goalies. [Dominik] Hasek when he was flopping around and saving everything he could was fun to watch, too. I think every team in the NHL was a dream for every kid, and for me, too.”

For the last few years, a playoff berth has seemed like a dream for the Caps and their fans. Behind Huet’s netminding, Washington won 11 of its last 12 games to claim its first division title in seven years.

“I think when he first came here and then playing in front of him and the way he was you could kind of tell we had something special here,” says Green. “[Am I] surprised that he has won [so often]? Not really. We’ve been playing desperation hockey here and he’s been a big part of our success.”

Huet returns to humility when asked to explain that success.

“I think right now I’m a little lucky,” he says. “Everything I do, I try to play the percentage most of the time but it seems like the other team is not picking corners, or I make one of those saves sometimes. The team is giving us some big goals, so everything is going well for us. But we’ve definitely worked for that, and it’s fun when we do it.”

“He’s just one of those goalies who is getting better with age and experience,” says Boudreau. “I think he is probably in the prime of his goaltending career right now.

In his one previous playoff series with the Habs, Huet went 2-4 as Montreal bowed out in the first round to eventual Cup champion Carolina two springs ago. He posted a solid 2.33 goals against average and a .929 save pct. during that series.

On Friday Huet will begin his second NHL playoff series in the same building where he made his first NHL start just over five years ago. The atmosphere figures to be a bit different than it was for that late season game with Los Angeles.

“I always liked to play here,” he says with a smile. “It’s good to play in front of a crowd [that’s] in red and going crazy.”

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