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Wayne Scanlan, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, October 13, 2006

Even the greatest to have played the position saw the lunacy in it.

Goaltenders: you can't live with them, or without them. Sometimes they have trouble living with themselves.

Glenn Hall, a Chicago Blackhawks legend who started 502 consecutive games, used to throw up in the dressing room washroom before going on the ice, where he'd cause enemy shooters to throw up their hands in frustration.

Jacques Plante was a creative genius who backstopped the Montreal Canadiens' dynasty of the 1950s, but the responsibility got to him occasionally. "How would you like a job where, every time you make a mistake a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?" Plante once said.

The lure, of course, beyond fame and fortune, is the flip side of the equation presented by Plante -- when a goalie makes the big stop at a vital moment and 18,000 people CHEER.

Last night at Scotiabank Place was just the latest casting call for the hero/bum role, a clash of Canadian teams off to sluggish 1-2 starts.

Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames was trying to rediscover the form that has made him the NHL's best, while Ray Emery of the Senators was starting his first game this season -- looking to make a case for more work.

Emery caused the first great cheer of the night when he stopped Jarome Iginla, right at his doorstep, during a first-period power play. He caused another stir by stopping a couple of crease flurries in the third. Asked beforehand what Emery had to do for his team, head coach Brian Murray got technical on us: "Stop the puck."

Kiprusoff was also razor sharp, doing a gymnast's routine in the crease, robbing Mike Fisher and Wade Redden with trapper saves. Both goalies were carting blanks into the third period, before Iginla got his revenge, tossing a backhand into an open net.

Mighty Kipper got his shutout.

Ottawa's slump is on.

Unlike most, the Flames organization doesn't coddle its players, a hard line that hasn't shifted with Darryl Sutter bumping himself upstairs. When the new head coach, Jim Playfair, was asked in the morning if Kiprusoff has to be better, Playfair answered in a word: "Absolutely.

"You look at how our team has played -- half our goals against have come on the P.K. (penalty kill). Our goalie has to be our best penalty killer."

After the 1-0 win, Playfair rightly called Kiprusoff "our best player."

In the first week of NHL action, goaltenders have let in killer goals and made incredible stops -- they're already being chastised and cherished.

While it's overly simplistic to suggest that goalies are the reason for every up and down -- team play and the luck of the bounce are contributing factors -- there isn't much doubt that all who have bolted from the gate quickly have received some special play within the blue paint.

There is also no such thing as too early in the season to question what is happening in this curious, critical hockey position. For example, David Aebischer has been playing out of his mind for the Canadiens. He's a big reason for their five-point start, off three road games, sparking a debate in Montreal about Aebischer versus Cristobal Huet for the No. 1 job. An Ottawa radio personality was heard praising the performance Montreal was getting from its "Swiss goaltender," and then added: "must be nice," a subtle shot at Ottawa's Swiss starter, Gerber, who lost two of his first three starts as a Senator.

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