Jose Theodore put on a goaltending clinic tonight and he deserved all three stars in this one as he stopped 44 of 46 shots allowing the Washington Capitals to rally with two goals within 46 seconds in the last seven minutes to knock off the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, at the Verizon Center. In a game that was totally dominated by a team that has played in the last two Stanley Cup Finals but has been battling a rash of injuries all season (and they are starting to get healthy), Washington took advantage of #60’s ability to somehow keep them in this one and Nicklas Backstrom scored on a power play and then Dave Steckel batted in a deflected Alexander Semin blast for the game winner. This victory moves the Caps to 31-12-6 and they are 17-3-3 on home ice. They are in first place in the Eastern Conference and should the Buffalo Sabres not win Tuesday night in Anaheim the Capitals will have sole possession of the #1 seed.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis:
Last Wednesday night during the Caps-Panthers game, with Semyon Varlamov injured and Michal Neuvirth yanked for the second straight evening and losing his confidence, some fans suggested on Twitter that Washington should bring up rookie goalie Braden Holtby from Hershey. My response was simple: It is time for the guy who is making $4.5M to step up. Well #60 has absolutely done that and he is 4-0 in his last four games. His rebound control has been superb, something that plagued him a lot this season, and he is finally making the big stop when it is needed. He thwarted Todd Bertuzzi on a breakaway in the first minute of this one and would make several ten bells saves in the opening period to keep Washington in it.
“That is probably the best I’ve seen him. I’m watching him and going this is how he must have been when he won the Hart and Vezina in Montreal that year, cause without him it very well could have been 6-0 in the first period,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of his goaltender against Detroit.
“It’s pretty good but I try never to get too high or too low on myself. Like I said before, when I wasn’t playing, my confidence was still pretty good because I was working hard, practicing hard. I’ve been in that type of situation before. I’m going to approach every day the same way and not get too high or too low after a game,” added Theodore on the win and his state of mind before and after tonight’s stellar performance.
Boy was Detroit, who were playing without Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, and Jason Williams, very good on Tuesday. They outskated Washington for the majority of the game. If not for Theodore they win this one going away.
“Well today was like men vs. boys, I don’t think we touched the puck. They came out with a vengeance and I am thinking this is how Stanley Cup Champions, that are desperate do, and it is a bar that we have to get to. We were just fortunate our goalie was great in the first period. And 5 out of 6 [first periods] we haven’t been good but 41 of 48 we probably have been good in the first period so it is something of a phase we are going through but we will turn it around,” said Boudreau on the opening stanza.
With the win on Sunday against the Flyers and tonight’s victory over Detroit and then Thursday’s tilt in Pittsburgh, Boudreau feels like this week is a good measuring stick for his Caps team. They were dominated on Tuesday, but at the end of the contest, they were victorious and it helped him assess his squad.
“I think we are resilient. We could have given up a few times. I think we also need to know that we have to play much better if we want to win the whole thing because that team played like they were in the seventh game, I hope they played like it was the seventh game of the playoffs, because if they can play a lot better then we are in trouble. I thought that was the best team we’ve played all year and I am shocked that they are in ninth place right now…I’m just glad they are in the West,” started Boudreau on his team and the Red Wings, “I think we are a good team and you have to rise to challenges and this is a good week for challenges. It was a gritty win and you have to find a way and people have to step up. It can’t always be Ovie and good teams find guys that step up, tonight it was Theo, Steckel, and Bradley,” Boudreau said.
After Theodore, the Caps really can thank their penalty killing for giving them a chance to win holding the Detroit power play scoreless on five attempts. 12 Washington players logged at least one minute of PK time so it was a collective effort that all starts with the goaltending.
“I thought our penalty killing was superb tonight and good goaltending usually equals good penalty killing,” added Boudreau.
The Caps almost lost this one in the last 10 minutes when an Alexander Semin (1 assist) giveaway allowed Valtteri Filppula to hit a streaking Brian Rafalski all alone in the slot and he blasted one five hole by Theodore to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead with 8:53 remaining. Semin had the most glaring miscue but Ovechkin compounded the error by abandoning his defensive responsibility (covering the right point man). However, after Backstrom tied the game, Semin took a drop pass from defenseman Karl Alzner, on a very smart rush up the ice by #27, and he fired it on net. It didn’t get there but Steckel finished it for the game winner.
“It is just getting cute in our own zone and we preach about that stuff all of the time. The skilled player and the great skilled players like Semin and Ovie they think they can make every play, because thye’ve made every play, so I don’t think he is thinking at that point that this is a tough play to make, I mean there were about four mistakes on it, not just him not getting it out, but he redeemed himself, as I knew he would,” said Boudreau on the play by Semin
Detroit was playing their third game in four days but they didn’t seem worse for the wear. The Caps just couldn’t keep up and they got away from their system, which is to dump the puck deep, hit the defense, and cycle the puck to set up scoring chances. But the Red Wings stymied that plan and put on a clinic of their own.
“If you don’t get it deep, then they get their transition going, and they can make four passes within 15 feet, they are a well oiled machine,” said Boudreau on the Red Wings.
The Steckel winner doesn’t come unless Backstrom makes a great rush up the ice to abuse Brad Stuart, the goat in game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, and then beat Wings goalie Chris Osgood (20 saves) five hole on the power play. Prior to that goal Washington’s power play was putrid going 0 for 3 without a shot on net.
“It was just a great play, he dekes the defenseman and puts it exactly where he has to put it. Great players rise to the occassion. Our power play was pretty dormant for the most part. But one thing you have when you have skilled players teams don’t like giving you any chances because if they give you a whole bunch of chances eventually you are going to win. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of chances but the right guys had the chances at the right times. When we tied it a 2-2, I thought we’ve put ourselves in a position to win this thing and maybe we didn’t deserve to win this thing and guys that work really hard all night, like Steckel and Bradley, usually get rewarded and Stecks got one,” finished Boudreau.
So what did Detroit Coach Mike Babcock think of his team and the Capitals?
“I thought we played real well, real hard. We basically, in my opinion, dominated from start to finish tonight. They’re an opportunistic team and they have a real good offensive flair. They were able to capitalize. I thought their goalie was outstanding but I like the way we played. We played fast. We were pretty much on top of them from start to finish. To me, it was a pretty good game by our team. If we continue to play the way we’re playing then we’ll be just fine,” said Babcock.
Other notes: Alexander Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal for just third time in his career (thanks @JapersRink)…Bertuzzi went to the net with a vengeance most of the game but he is not Holmstrom and his boneheaded trip of Mike Green gave Washington its fourth power play and that allowed Backstrom to tie the game up. …The ice looked absolutely horrible on Tuesday with the puck bouncing all over the place. It clearly impacted both teams power plays…The Caps first goal was a thing of beauty as Green, who was shaken up at one point in the second period, made a super cross ice pass to Boyd Gordon, who then made an even better backhanded saucer pass to Matt Bradley, and the Professor buried it to get Washington even in a game they should have been getting blown out of…Alzner, in his first game back from Hershey only logged 11:23 of ice time, but he contributed in a key way on the game winning goal.