Analysis of Caps Goaltending Situation (Updated)

December 26, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the Washington Capitals goaltending situation. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post did a story on this last week and Caps television analyst Craig Laughlin also talked about it this past Wednesday morning with Drew Forrester on WNST. El-Bashir thought that the goaltending was the team’s biggest concern and Laughlin called it the second biggest concern after all of the injuries. Both cited the fact that it would be good if either Jose Theodore or Brent Johnson would step up and be the number one goalie and in Tarik’s story Bruce Boudreau was quoted as saying, “We’re waiting for one to come up and say, ‘Hey listen, I’m the guy, go to me all the time.” El-Bashir also pointed out that should one not step up Caps GM George McPhee has shown that he will go out and get a goalie should one be needed and carry three goaltenders as evidenced by the Cristobal Huet acquisition at last season’s trade deadline when he already had Johnson and Olie Kolzig.

So given all of this background I decided to do my own assessment of how I thought the goaltending for Washington has played in each game as part of an overall analysis of the situation. For step one, I graded the goaltending on a game-by-game basis as if they were in school and I’ve sorted the grades by game from A to F in the table below.

Date OPPONENT RESULT Goalie OF Record SF-SA PP PK Grade

Mon, Oct 13 Vancouver W 5-1 B. Johnson 35-10 2-4 3-4 A

Sat, Oct 18 New Jersey L 3-4 SO B. Johnson 27-37 1-8 3-4 A

Tue, Nov 4 @ Ottawa L 1-2 OT B. Johnson 27-44 0-1 5-5 A

Thu, Nov 6 Carolina W 3-2 B. Johnson 33-34 0-3 2-2 A

Sat, Nov 8 NY Rangers W 3-1 B. Johnson 28-29 1-4 2-3 A

Mon, Nov 10 Tampa Bay W 4-2 B. Johnson 30-36 0-3 3-5 A

Wed, Nov 12 @ Carolina W 5-1 B. Johnson 37-27 1-5 6-7 A

Fri, Nov 14 New Jersey W 3-1 J. Theodore 27-33 1-1 2-2 A

Fri, Nov 28 Montreal W 3-0 J. Theodore 30-28 0-3 3-3 A

Wed, Dec 10 Boston W 3-1 B. Johnson 26-34 1-2 3-3 A

Fri, Dec 12 Ottawa W 5-1 B. Johnson 34-33 3-7 4-4 A

Sat, Dec 13 @ Montreal W 2-1 S. Varlamov 26-33 1-4 8-8 A

Thu, Dec 18 St. Louis W 4-2 S. Varlamov 29-31 1-5 4-5 A

Sat, Oct 11 Chicago W 4-2 J. Theodore 34-21 0-4 5-5 B

Thu, Oct 16 @ Pittsburgh W 4-3 J. Theodore 30-26 0-4 3-6 B

Tue, Oct 21 @ Calgary L 1-2 J. Theodore 31-28 0-5 8-9 B

Thu, Oct 23 @ Phoenix L 1-2 J. Theodore 32-34 1-4 4-4 B

Wed, Nov 19 @ Anaheim W 6-4 J. Theodore 33-32 3-8 4-5 B

Thu, Nov 20 @ LA Kings L 2-5 B. Johnson 21-33 1-5 4-5 B

Wed, Nov 26 Atlanta W 5-3 J. Theodore 33-18 2-4 1-3 B

Sat, Nov 29 @ Columbus L 0-3 B. Johnson 26-31 0-5 3-3 B

Thu, Dec 4 NY Islanders W 5-2 B. Johnson 47-29 3-5 7-8 B

Sat, Dec 6 @ Toronto W 2-1 B. Johnson 30-20 0-2 2-3 B

Tue, Oct 28 Nashville W 4-3 SO J. Theodore 32-26 1-5 6-7 C

Sat, Nov 15 @ New Jersey L 5-6 SO J. Theodore 30-33 1-2 3-4 C

Mon, Nov 24 @ Minnesota L 3-4 J. Theodore 28-33 1-3 4-6 C

Tue, Dec 16 @ NY Islanders W 5-4 OT B. Johnson 40-39 0-3 3-5 C

Tue, Dec 23 @ NY Rangers W 5-4 OT J. Theodore 36-28 2-5 3-3 C

Sat, Oct 25 @ Dallas W 6-5 OT J. Theodore 30-33 1-4 3-4 C

Fri, Oct 10 @ Atlanta L 4-7 B. Johnson 43-31 2-7 6-9 D

Sat, Nov 22 @ San Jose L 2-7 B. Johnson 21-28 1-4 4-6 D

Tue, Dec 2 Florida L 3-5 J. Theodore 26-22 2-4 2-4 D

Sun, Dec 7 @ Carolina L 1-3 J. Theodore 39-25 1-5 3-3 D

Sat, Dec 20 @ Philadelphia L 1-7 B. Johnson 48-28 0-5 3-5 F

Sat, Nov 1 @ Buffalo L 0-5 J. Theodore 29-27 0-5 7-8 F

Using my grades for the 35 games the Caps goaltending has a 2.8 grade point average. This isn’t quite honor roll material but it is very close and the overall grade is just below above average. My list shows that only in six games did the goaltending grade out below average or worse, and those six games were split between Theodore and Johnson, however, in 23 games the goaltenders were above average or excellent. Johnson has played better overall based on my grades and Simeon Varlamov, who is down in Hershey, graded out as a 4.0 in his two starts (Friday morning UPDATE: Varlamov has been recalled to Washington as Johnson is not even skating this morning and as Graig commented below there is the possibility that he could be out for awhile).

Next up in the analysis is the league statistics. If you look at the overall NHL stats the Caps are 24th in goals against average at 2.97 and are tied for 20th in save percentage at .899. Some would say that this is a problem but given that the Caps are an offensive minded team (they are 7th overall at 3.20 goals per game) that can result in a higher number of odd man rushes for the opposition and the fact that they’ve played numerous games without several key players, especially on defense where they’ve had to go 11 deep in the organization plus use forwards Sergei Fedorov and Brooks Laich for stints on the blueline, I don’t think the numbers are all that bad.

As for the possibility of getting a goalie at the trade deadline, I think that may not be as viable as one might think this year. Reason number one is because of the salary cap situation the Caps are in: they just don’t have a lot of money to go out and get another goalie, especially given that they have $4.5M invested in Jose Theodore for this season and next (Brent Johnson, who makes $825K, is an unrestricted free agent). The other big reason is the likely candidates for a new goalie would be unrestricted free agent goaltenders on other teams but a quick look at the best of this list yields players on playoff contending teams:

Manny Fernandez, Boston

Tim Thomas, Boston

Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago

Nicklas Backstrom, Minnesota

Scott Clemmensen, New Jersey

Martin Biron, Philadelphia

Anterro Niittymaki, Philadelphia

It is interesting to note that Boston, who has the best record in the Eastern Conference at 25-5-4, is basically splitting their goaltending duties down the middle between Thomas and Fernandez (Thomas has played 20 games and Fernandez 15) so not having a clear cut number one goalie does not seem to be a major problem for Coach Claude Julien. The Bruins do have a good defense that is led by Zdeno Chara. The Flyers, who are 19-8-7, have also split their goaltending up with Biron playing 21 games and Niittymaki appearing in 15 contests so this is another case of a team doing well without a clear cut number one goalie.

The Caps fall into this category of teams doing well without a clear cut number one so I really don’t think goaltending is as big of a concern as it is being made out to be recently. Boudreau often says the key to goaltending is being able to win a game by making the big saves at the right times. For the most part this season the Caps have been getting that from Johnson, Theodore, and Varlamov and if you factor in that both Theodore and Johnson have battled through some injuries their performance looks even better.

Therefore, if you ask me, I think the goaltending situation is okay right now and my only concern on that front is the health of Johnson and Theodore. It is only late December so you don’t want to burn one guy out before the playoffs, especially since this team expects to go deep into the post-season this spring. Coming into the season the Caps clearly expected Theodore to be the number one guy based on the money they are paying him. Johnson has outplayed him so far and if not for his injury issues he would be the number one guy. It should also be noted that Theodore only received a two year contract so Washington was expecting big things from Varlamov in the future and he appears to be ahead of schedule.

In closing, I still think that Theodore will rise up and become the number one guy the Caps expect him to be in the second half of the season and in the playoffs. If he can control his rebounds like he did in the Montreal game and hopefully get to play behind a healthy Caps team (and injuries are by FAR my biggest concern with this team) any issues with him should be alleviated. But if Theodore doesn’t put it together as planned then going with Johnson or even Varlamov doesn’t scare me either.

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