Jose Theodore is getting used to being surrounded by controversy.
As the Montreal Canadiens slid down the standings, the goaltender was benched in favour of Cristobal Huet in back-to-back games, mentioned in trade rumours and ultimately as a possible reason for the firing of head coach Claude Julien.
To some, it appeared the former bench boss lost confidence in Theodore but the players say that wasn't the case.
"Not at all," said former Calgary Flames forward Steve Begin. "We know Jose's our No. 1 goalie. Claude was trying to find a way to win. He was trying to shake things a little bit. Jose knew why Claude sat him out."
That doesn't mean the goaltender was happy to be on the bench.
"For sure, you want to play," said Theodore. "It's my responsibility to get the job done. As the No. 1 guy, you want that challenge, you want that responsibility that when the team is not playing well you want the pressure to turn things around.
"That's what you play for. That's what's fun about it."
Theodore, who has a .892 save percentage and 3.15 goals-against average in 33 games this season, says he didn't feel as if he was being blamed for the struggles.
"I never felt they lost confidence in me," said the 29-year-old, who missed four games with a knee injury in December. "When the team's struggling, you try some different things."
Most importantly, Theodore never doubted his own ability despite the stats.
"When the team's struggling, you just try sometimes a little too hard," said Theodore. "But when you look at the standings, we're still right in there so I never ... you never lose confidence in yourself. That's the last thing you want to do as a player. You just want to keep working hard.
"Now, the hard work's been paying off with the team and with myself the last two games."
When GM Bob Gainey took over head coaching duties Saturday, he said he wanted some of his players to be better. Theodore's name was among those mentioned.
"Jose's a very proud guy and he's a competitor but we all have our periods when we're not right there on the mark," said Gainey yesterday. "I thought there could have been other players I could have mentioned but some of the guys I mentioned are some of our best players.
"I didn't say they were playing poorly, I said they could play better. I think all of them would agree that was true."
Theodore admitted as much.
"There was no doubt about it. I wanted to do more, I wanted more responsibilities," said Theodore.
Before Julien's dismissal, Theodore's name had been bandied about in trade rumours but that seems unlikely now. Regardless, he's used to dealing with frenzied speculation in the Montreal media.
"I did hear my name before when I was younger," Theodore said. "It's not something new for me and it's not something that bothers me. I'm happy here and I want to play here."