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Tuesday, October 29, 2002
Updated: November 5, 11:10 AM ET
Goalie 'rotation' makes everyone dizzy

By Darren Pang
Special to ESPN.com

During the 1988-89 season, the Chicago Blackhawks used five goalies -- Alain Chevrier, Ed Belfour, Jimmy Waite, Chris Clifford and me. Mike Keenan was trying to convince the hockey world that none of us could stop the puck. Sure there were a few injuries along the way, but he mostly wanted the Hawks to trade for a Ron Hextall or Tom Barrasso-type, so he kept pulling goalie after goalie after goalie.

The message was REAL clear.

So last week, I'm watching the Blues play in Edmonton. Curtis Sanford, who relieved an injured Reinhard Divis two games earlier, goes down with a pulled Achillies. In comes Cody Rudkowsky, who makes 10 saves to preserve the 2-1 win. Fred Brathwaite, who was summoned from the pressbox to dress as a backup, starts the next game against Calagary and wins, 4-3. Though Brent Johnson hasn't played a game yet, that still adds up to five goalies.

Now, Tom Barrasso has been signed to a one-year deal. The Blues may have been a bit premature. Brathwaite was OK to play against Edmonton, but the team was concerned that the four-hour flight might have tightened up his bad groin.

At that point, I'm thinking that maybe Brent Johnson's injury might be worse than previously thought, meaning Brathwaite and Barrasso would be the tandem, right? Apparently not. Now, it looks like Johnson will be back a little sooner than expected. Was he sitting in the weeds, waiting for all the other goalies to falter before pressing for a new contract? If that is the case, it backfired. Instead, ALL the goalies played well, leaving Johnson as the odd man looking in for the short term. At the same time, there was no way the Blues were going sign Byron Dafoe to a long-term deal if they still think that Johnson is the guy for the present and future. Johnson still needs to prove he can be a top guy on a strong team, which is hard to do from the trainer's room.

Theodore meets the learning curve
Don't worry about Jose Theodore in Montreal, most goalies go through a letdown like this after a remarkable ride the year before. This guy is cool on and off the ice, driving fast cars and enjoying the social life of a Hart and Vezina Trophy winning season.

Last year, goalie coach Rollie Melanson told Goalies World Magazine, "We knew that Jose was a character goalie, but he was a small goalie playing a small game. Technically, there were a few things to address, but the main thing was having him play a bigger game."

It was obvious that Rollie worked hard with Jose, and the little guy (5-11, 179) responded with a brilliant season. But it is also obvious that he didn't spend much time during the offseason focusing on playing at the top level this season. This shows how tough it is to stay on top. Jose is discovering the learning curve. Fortunately, Jeff Hackett has played like the Vezina Trophy winner that Jose was last year. The Habs are managing the situation correctly. They have him stepping back and working on his technique in practice, while encouraging him to enjoy the game again.

Maybe the best thing would have been to make him sit longer while he was holding the negotiating gun to their heads. Maybe that hunger and "I'll prove to you " attitude would have come through in his start. Or maybe not. He'll be the main horse in Montreal again, likely with Mathieu Garon as his backup. Meanwhile, Hackett will backstop some other team into the playoffs.

Sharks still deep and dangerous
The Sharks' goaltending is still deep, despite what has taken place this season. With Warren Strelow and Wayne Thomas in San Jose, they will always develop a strong nucleus of goalies.

Last year, Miikka Kiprusoff went to Darryl Sutter on many occasions looking for more starts, but Evgeni Nabokov clearly was on a roll. Kipper will learn a lot from his brief tenure as a No. 1. Eventually, he'll get another chance with another organization (which I imagine will happen) or he'll be a terrific No. 2 guy because he has wonderful ability and skill.

As far as Vesa Toskala is concerned, he looked very calm and confident. During the one game Sutter pulled him, he was actually looking comfortable and made several saves look easy. I believe his future is real bright. If anything, the Sharks as a team didn't exactly make their goalies look good.

Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. His goalie rankings appear every other week in Net Effect.