Curtis Joseph has been one lonely guy this year. He has been left standing alone on an island that is familiar only to goalies, placekickers and relief pitchers. A solitary figure in a team game striving for a sporting accomplishment while all those in the building hold their collective breath.
We're not talking about not getting support from the players in front of him. He is getting that, even more lately than in some of the earlier games. But Joseph has been staring down the barrel of a very dangerous gun by facing an alarming number of penalty shots.
After being involved in two penalty shots last month, Joseph got his third taste of the most exciting play in hockey in the Leafs 4-2 win over the Capitals on Tuesday.
He faced Joe Sacco in hockey's ultimate mano-a-mano confrontation 2:03 into the third period. The Capitals winger had broken into the Leafs zone while killing a penalty with three of Joseph's mates trying to catch him from behind. One caught him a little too much, and there was Joseph, a moment later, readying himself to face an uncontested breakaway for the third time this season.
"I just tried to be patient," Joseph explained after the game. "Hopefully I was going to learn from the one in Vancouver, where I wasn't patient, and I got beat like a rented mule. That's the thing, to learn from your mistakes."
So what happened when Sacco came rolling down the middle of the ice? He attempted to deke out Joseph by looking left, then sliding the puck back to his right. Joseph got low, keeping himself well-positioned between Sacco and the short side and cleanly kept the puck out of the net with a glove save.
This was Joseph's 14th appearance of the season, making him one of the busiest goalies in the league. But that still shouldn't account for the excess number of uncontested breakaways that he's had to face.
"It looks like they're having a tendency to call that more. We've had three already and I can't remember facing even two in one season before," Joseph added.
On October 18, Markus Naslund of the Canucks was awarded a penalty shot and he managed to beat the Leafs netminder in Toronto's 6-5 win. Less than two weeks later, October 30, Joseph closed the door on Tampa Bay's young star Vincent Lecavalier in a 3-2 Toronto triumph. Joseph has now faced 12 penalty shots in his career, allowing only three goals, but he had never been confronted by more than two in one season.
"We've had three against us and two of them weren't even penalties," said Leafs coach Pat Quinn. "Why it's happening now you'd have to ask a higher authority. If they've changed the rule, they haven't told us."
What particularly aggravated Quinn was that this penalty shot was called in the third period of a 2-2 game.
Which makes Joseph's achievement even bigger, just as it did in the game against the Lightning.
"Any time you make a big save, that's your job as a goalie," Joseph said calmly after the game. "It can change the momentum either way. It's an exciting play, that's for sure."
The Leafs could probably use a little less of that kind of excitement. Notes:
In addition to his big save on a penalty shot, Joseph also had a chance to score the first goal of his career. With less than a minute left and the Capitals net empty for an extra attacker, he found himself to the left of his crease and the puck on his backhand. Before he could flip the puck to the other end, Aki Berg came back to help and Joseph said "he was right in line and I didn't want to hit him in the face."
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