Washington Capitals' Offseason Notes: Irbe Hired As Goalie Coach

Dave NicholsSenior Analyst IAugust 13, 2009

WASHINGTON - MARCH 27: Jose Theodore #60 of the Washington Capitals tends net against Vaclav Prospal #20 of the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 27, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Battle for playing time between Theodore, Varlamov, and Neuvirth

Longtime NHL veteran goalie Artus Irbe, one of the first European goalies to earn a starting job in the NHL, was named as goalie coach by the Washington Capitals.

According to Capitals' Insider:

Although Irbe will oversee all of the organization's goalies, including veteran Jose Theodore, his biggest responsibility will be polishing touted youngsters Semyon Varlamov, a Russian, and Michal Neuvirth, a Czech, into top NHLers.

At times last season, Varlamov's limited English made communication with the coaching staff difficult. That, however, will no longer be a problem since Irbe speaks English, Russian, and some German.

"I should be able to communicate with him in any language, whichever he prefers," said Irbe, a native of Latvia. "I hope it will be an asset to make it easier, the transition [to the NHL]."

GM George McPhee added, "The fact that he speaks different languages made us really think he would be a good fit for us. That helps a lot. There are some nuances to goaltenders that are difficult explain or decipher if there's a language barrier."

Irbe, in 13 NHL seasons, was 218-236-79 with a 2.83 GAA and .899 save percentage. He led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002.
Irbe replaces Dave Prior, who stepped down from the position for family reasons. Prior coached Washington's goalies for 12 seasons.
Nowhere on this team will the battle for playing time be more obvious than goal this season. Coach Bruce Boudreau has stated that Theodore comes into camp as the No. 1, but one needs to look no further than last season's playoffs to know that the title is in name only.

"Right now Jose is the No. 1 guy, and the other two young men have got to come in and play the way they did last year and try to push him out," Boudreau said this morning at KCI. "Jose won 33 games for us last year, and like the year before when Cristobal Huet got hot down the stretch, Varly came in and did a great job where we just couldn't take him out."

As for Theodore, he insists that he is ready for the starting spot.

"I don't see myself as a backup. My frame of mind was to enter the summer, my off-ice training, and the season as the No. 1 guy. [Whether] or not that was the case, that was going to be my approach. We all know in hockey, No. 1 is only a title. It's still on the ice that you have to earn your points."

It should be a very interesting training camp between the pipes. Irbe has his hands full in his first coaching gig at any level.

All quotes in this article courtesy of Capitals Insider.