Don't be shocked if Alexander Ovechkin has already walked into George McPhee
's office and asked the Washington Capitals
general manager why in the world he made that trade for Cristobal Huet
"Well, last game I scored four goals on him," the Russian star joked to NHL.com.
Who could forget the night Ovechkin broke his nose, required stitches in his lip after getting a face full of puck, and still proceeded to score four goals, including the overtime winner against Huet in a 5-4 Caps win against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 31?
A beaten-up and smiling Ovechkin is one of the lasting images of this NHL season, but that was more than a month ago, and Ovechkin is smart enough to realize his four goals against Huet was more aberration than norm for the Capitals' newest goalie.
That Washington already had a No. 1 in Olaf Kolzig -- and one of the League's top backups in Brent Johnson -- didn't stop McPhee from nabbing Huet for a future second-round pick at the deadline last week.
Humor aside, Ovechkin is thrilled to have Huet, because he's knows the goalie can help the Caps in their surprising push for a playoff berth.
Huet blanked New Jersey, 4-0, in his Caps debut last Friday night, pushing aside all 18 shots he faced. Kolzig was in net the next night for a 3-2 loss to Toronto, but Huet was back between the pipes for Monday's 10-2 shellacking of the Boston Bruins when Ovechkin tallied his third hat trick of the season. However, after making 20 saves, he left after the second period due to mild back spasms.
Heading into Wednesday's game against the Sabres, the Caps are second in the Southeast Division with 70 points, three points behind first-place Carolina. Plus, Washington has a game in hand on the Hurricanes.
"We're not in a bad spot here," Huet told NHL.com before beating the Devils at the Prudential Center. "Basically we have nothing to lose. We just have to make a push to get a spot."
Huet never imagined he'd be in this position this season. Next season? Who knows? He's set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and he'll be a hot commodity on the market, possibly more attractive than Kolzig, also a pending UFA.
However, this season, Huet was supposed to be in Montreal, backstopping that legendary team deep into the playoffs.
That all changed at noon on trade-deadline day, Feb. 26, when Montreal GM Bob Gainey pulled off the shocker of the deadline. Gainey sent Huet to Washington and handed rookie Carey Price the No. 1 job in Montreal, which comes complete with the pressure of taking the Habs deep into the playoffs, possibly all the way.
Huet, like the rest of the hockey world, was blown away.
"You should ask them why they did that," he said.
Looking back on it, Huet actually sensed a move was coming.
Since Price returned from Hamilton of the AHL, Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau was playing the hot-goalie card. Win and you stayed in. Lose and you sat. However, after practice last Monday, Carbonneau told the goalies that Price was going to play Tuesday against Atlanta even though he lost the previous game.
"I sensed that either the rest of the season was going to be long for me," Huet said, "or something like a trade might happen."
Twenty-four hours later, he was on his way to D.C.
"It's always good when a team wants you," Huet said. "It's a fresh start for me."
And it's an exciting addition for the young and rapidly improving Capitals.
"He's very quick, and he's good with rebound control," Bruce Boudreau told NHL.com. Boudreau coached Huet in the AHL when they were both in the Kings organization. "When he's on, he's really, really good. He's had his off days in his life, but if we can clear that second shot, he's going to stop the first one."
Still, acquiring Huet adds a level of stress to Boudreau's job. Now he has three capable goalies to juggle, which is rare for any hockey coach at any level.
Boudreau doesn't seem overly concerned.
"We have two good goalies I believe, but this makes us three good goalies," the coach said. "It'll be tough to get them all work, but it makes us a better team, I believe."
The Capitals players also believe the team is better today than it was last week.
"It's probably tough on the three guys, but it never hurts to have as much depth as you can," Caps defenseman Tom Poti told NHL.com. "If one guy gets hurt, we have another guy who can step in and not miss a beat."
Huet isn't worried about what can easily be perceived as a goalie controversy, especially in Washington, where many young fans have grown up with Kolzig. He's been a Capital since 1989 and the team's No. 1 since 1997.
"I have a lot of respect for (Kolzig) and I think he's done so much for the organization," Huet said. "He's been a class act. He's welcomed me. He's been very friendly and he knows we have to work together to get the job done. It's the same for Brent. We're like a team within the team. Whoever plays, it's not in our hands. We just have to do our best."
Huet then stressed that winning with the Caps is all he's focused on right now.
"I'm happy to have a new chance," he added. "People believe in me here."
Even so, Huet's not naive. He realizes this is a time of uncertainty in his NHL career, almost as if he's hit a crossroads. He's 32 and basically playing for what could be his last big contract.
At least Huet already knew his future wasn't in Montreal, not with Price already in the fold. However, if the Caps choose to throw money at him instead of Kolzig this summer, there's a chance he'll just be keeping the net warm for the eventual emergence of prized goaltending prospects Semen Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.
"It is what it is," Huet said. "I don't want to think too far ahead. I would like to play well here for myself and the team. It's that simple. We'll see after this season."
Nevertheless, by nabbing Huet -- as well as forwards Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke in separate deals -- at the deadline McPhee made it known to his team and its fans that in Washington the present matters just as much as the team's future.
The team that has finished 14th in the Eastern Conference each of the last three seasons is ready for some playoff hockey.
For Ovechkin, that comes at a price.
"He told me, 'No more four goals, not even in practice,' " Ovechkin said.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com