In homage to Washington Capital rookie goaltender Jim Carey, the USAir Arena scoreboard often shows movie clips during TV timeouts. For 70 seconds Jim Carrey, the comedian, the one who starred in The Mask, does his high-tech hipster routine from that movie, while 20-year-old Jim Carey, the goaltender, the one with the stars on his hockey sweater and not on his dressing-room door, steals a glance at the giant screen. "I love him," the Capital netminder says. "The man is so talented and definitely not normal. He makes a fool out of himself better than anyone."
Carey is working on his own movie: Film at 11. Flip on the sports highlights most nights, and there, on TV, smaller than life, is Jim Carey. There isn't much of a plot (kick save, glove save, stick save) and no special effects (his style in goal is mostly unobtrusive), but after just five weeks in the NHL, the theme of Carey's flick is obvious: It's easy being green.
Carey, a kid with ice water in his glass—he is two months shy of being legally able to drink a beer—had a 13-3-2 record, a microscopic NHL-best 1.89 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage through Sunday. He was the NHL player of the month in March, the first rookie to be a solo winner of that award. This does not exactly make him bigger than Newt around the Beltway, but hardy Capital loyalists finally have a marquee name to cheer. They have waved oversized aces of hearts for ACE CAREY, NET DETECTIVE; former teammate Randy Burridge dipped into the Carrey oeuvre to give Carey the nickname Ace in training camp last September. Some fans have taken to wearing Jim Carrey's mask from Mask to games. The green rubber masks look uncomfortable but no doubt are preferable to the paper bags that would have been the headgear of choice if Washington hadn't summoned Carey from the minors.
The Capitals—the disciplined, persistent and singularly dull Capitals—have been described as colorless and odorless. This is only partially true. Their record on March 1 was 3-10-5, which stank. "Desperate times call for desperate measures," coach Jim Schoenfeld said the day the Capitals promoted Carey from Portland of the American Hockey League. But the Capitals' last-gasp move has breathed life into the team. Carey helped turn the team around by eliminating most soft goals and giving the forwards some confidence, which has translated into actual, albeit occasional, spurts of offense.
"I had three goalies [Byron Dafoe, Olaf Kolzig and Rick Tabaracci], and each of them had one win," Schoenfeld says. "At the time we called up Jim we had the lowest shooting percentage in the league and the lowest save percentage. Maybe you can have one [and be successful], but you can't have both."
Carey, who last September bolted the University of Wisconsin before his junior year and was scheduled to spend a full season in the minors, stopped 21 shots in his NHL debut, a 4-3 win against the New York Islanders on March 2. After the game he was lathering his face for a shave when teammate Jason Allison interceded. Don't do that, Allison pleaded, we're on a winning streak.
"I'm thinking, Yeah, right, one in a row, ha-ha-ha," Carey says. "But you know, he was serious."
"During my tenure, goaltending has been our Achilles' heel," says David Poile, who is in his 13th season as Capital general manager. "When it came to crunch time, the playoffs, it wasn't there. You could say the Capitals lost. Or the Capitals choked. But nine times out of 10, it was the other team's goalie outshining our goalie. It was always the other goalie who would steal a win. Now maybe Jim can do that for us."
The NHL has been littered with goalies who have had sensational rookie starts. The cantankerous Ron Hex-tall put the fight back into neophyte when he won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies for Philadelphia in 1986-87, one season after you've-never-heard-of-him Darren Jensen of the Flyers started 13-3-1 and shared the Jennings Trophy for lowest goals-against average. Some, like Ross Brooks (11-1-3 for Boston in 1972-73), fall off the face of the earth. Others, like Ken Dryden (6-0 before leading the upstart 1971 Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup), Rogie Vachon (11-3-4, 2.48. goals-against average with Montreal in 1966-67) and Grant Fuhr (28-5-14 in Edmonton in 1981-82), stay on the path to greatness. Philadelphia's Pete Peeters went 22-0-5 in 1979-80 after playing five games the previous season, but the best start belonged to Hall of Famer Frank Brimsek. Brimsek, who had six shutouts in his first eight games with the 1938-39 Boston Bruins, was nicknamed Mr. Zero, which sounds like it could be the title of Jim Carrey's next movie.
Carey is not a Patrick Roy clone, as is the vogue among young goalies, though he sometimes uses a variation of Roy's trademark butterfly style. Carey drops to his knees a little too early and a little too often to be characterized as a stand-up goalie, but when he does go down, the 6'2", 190-pounder is able to cover most of the net. He is not a reflex goalie, though his glove hand is quick and his feet are surprisingly nimble. He has no Hextallian tics or mannerisms.