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Mighty Ducks' Shtalenkov Wears Victory Well

March 14, 1994|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — No, those weren't the Montreal Canadiens slapping shots at goaltender Mikhail Shtalenkov on Sunday afternoon in Anaheim Arena.

In the end, it didn't matter who wore the opposing jerseys. What counted most of all for Shtalenkov were the final numbers on the scoreboard:

Mighty Ducks 5, Ottawa Senators 1.

Years from now, when memories of a 90-degree Orange County Sunday fade, Shtalenkov can bend the story of his first victory any way he likes.

Will anyone in Moscow, his hometown, remember it came against one of the weakest NHL teams in more than 20 seasons?

What counted most on Sunday, was that he and the Ducks won.

"I'm just happy today because of my first NHL win," Shtalenkov said after stopping 27 of 28 shots.

"I wait a long time for this game."

Shtalenkov, 28, an NHL rookie who started his fourth game Sunday, finally came away a winner.

As recently as Feb. 20, he was content to tend goal for the San Diego Gulls of the International Hockey League.

But then, "Somebody call and I went to St. Louis," Shtalenkov said. "Surprise, but good surprise."

The Ducks traded goalie Ron Tugnutt, who shared the starting spot with Guy Hebert until then, to Montreal for goal-scoring forward Stephan Lebeau. They also promoted Shtalenkov, who joined them in St. Louis.

Shtalenkov's fine play at San Diego (15-11-2 record and 3.45 goals-against average in 28 games) and Hebert's hot streak around the All-Star break (3-2-2 in seven starts) allowed the Ducks to make a move.

"We always thought he could challenge to be No. 1," said Jack Ferreira, Duck general manager. "From Day 1 I always felt our greatest depth was at goaltender. Once it got sorted out who was one, two, three, then we could make a move for a scorer."

They had to be careful, though.

Because he was an older, European player, the Ducks couldn't simply send Shtalenkov to the minors. NHL rules say: You sign him, you have to keep him on the major league roster. Send him down and he has to clear waivers.

"I know Hartford was looking at him," Ferreira said.

So the Ducks, keeping Hebert and Tugnutt in Anaheim as Nos. 1 and 1A, sent Shtalenkov to San Diego on a conditioning assignment. It was the only way to avoid the waiver wire.

Turned out he was in pretty fair shape. He was up briefly for starts against Vancouver and Toronto. He was good in one and awful in the other.

Back to San Diego.

When he caught Ferreira's eye again, the trade was made and he returned . . . to sit on the bench for seven of the 10 games leading up to Sunday.

Shtalenkov held the Senators scoreless for more than 48 minutes until Dennis Vial swatted a rebound past him for their only goal.

"It (a shutout) would be great," Shtalenkov said. "But it's not important. If we win it's most important."

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