It's hard to ignore two consecutive shutouts from a backup goalie. The obvious reward would be a chance for a third real soon, and that's apparently what Craig Billington is going to get.
Billington, who had to be perfect because the opposing goalie was simply outstanding, made 19 saves as he spelled regular starter Olaf Kolzig in the Washington Capitals' 1-0 victory over the Nashville Predators on Friday night.
"I have to decide now. Maybe he'll start tomorrow," said coach Ron Wilson, whose team visits the New York Islanders on Saturday night. "You've got to go with the hot hand. I'm sure Olie would understand that."
"You can't rely on the goaltender to win the game," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose team has lost four straight. "I got the feeling the guys thought we'd win the game because the goalie was standing on his head. We might not be a top-end team in talent, but we've got to learn to match loose pucks and not rely strictly on the goaltender."
There's no disputing that Kolzig is the Capitals' No. 1 goalie he had eight consecutive starts before Billington got a chance last Saturday against Boston. But Billington responded with 28 saves in a 3-0 shutout against the Bruins, and he has not allowed a goal in 135 minutes of play.
"I have to role to fill here," said Billington, who has nine shutouts in 13 NHL seasons. "Ad I know exactly what it is. Olie is the goalie, and I enjoy playing with him."
Dahlen had been without a goal all season until he scored two in Buffalo on Wednesday, but he's getting more ice time and now has three in two games.
His goal came seven seconds after Kimmo Timonen was sent to the penalty box for holding. Vokoun stopped Dmitri Mironov from long range and then saved Adam Oates' rebound attempt, but Dahlen was able to poke his stick among a crowd of six players in front of the goal to knock the puck home.
"It was a scramble, and all of a sudden I saw the puck," Dahlen said. "I just put my stuck on it and threw it at the net."
It was just the fourth power-play goal at home this season for the Capitals, who were last in the league in home power-play efficiency coming into the game.
Vokoun's record fell to a hard-luck 0-6-1. He had given up six goals in his last NHL start and was sent down to IHL affiliate Milwaukee for three games last week, and the work did him good.
"I wanted to go to Milwaukee, and I'm glad I did," Vokoun said. "I was able to relax, have fun and get my confidence back."
Actually, two shots got by Vokoun, but one didn't count. Chris Simon slid a rebound cleanly into the net at 10:09 of the second period, but referee Bernie DeGrace had whistled play dead and waived off the goal.
The Capitals are 5-1-2 in their last eight games at home. The victory was their first over the Predators, who beat Washington twice last season with Vokoun in goal. It also was the Caps' first victory this season over a Western Conference opponent. They were 0-5-3 against the West entering the game.
The Predators were shut out for the first time since their season opener against Los Angeles.
"We played very defensively all night," center Cliff Ronning said. "Guys are giving the effort, it just doesn't seem to be there right now."
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed