Washington Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore stopped all six shots he faced in overtime, including a spectacular glove save on Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen and three sliding saves on Eric Staal during a Hurricanes four on three power play, and then shut down Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen in the shootout while both Alexes scored for the Caps to break Washington’s four game home losing streak with a 5-4 victory at sold out Verizon Center on Saturday night. This win, despite Alexander Semin’s four points and shootout goal, would not have happened without the great play of #60, who was hung out to dry by the Caps five skaters in front of him on several occasions in this game.
“Jose was great all night. If he wasn’t at the top of his game, they would have had six or seven, easy. I mean, they had four breakaways in the second period,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the outstanding play of his #1 goaltender.
“Anytime you are shorthanded for a full two minutes, you’re fortunate [not to be scored on] in overtime because it’s four on three. They had some Grade A shots and our goalie beat their shooters is what it came down to,” finished Boudreau on his goalie, who I think has been wrongly criticized by many in the North American media as the potential weak link for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. I’ll continue to say this as I’ve said many times in my blog: Jose Theodore is capable of being a Stanley Cup winning goalie for the Capitals if Washington plays better defensively in front of him. That scenario will be made much easier if Washington performs more like they did on Tuesday and Thursday of this week in Nashville and Philadelphia, both 2-1 wins, than they did tonight against Carolina (the Caps blew 3-1 and 4-2 leads because of major defensive lapses).
“We had too many turnovers…Carolina is so fast. When they scored their second goal, it was like we had a five-on-one and they had a five-on-zero. It was like pond hockey. In the playoffs, you have to play much more structured. We’ve got a short window of 10 or 12 games left to make sure our guys are aware of this. When we had the five-on-one, five guys is too much. Three guys would have been fine. Somebody’s got to the read that play and stay back. Mike Green was up in the rush so someone needs to cover for him. We persevered. I’m not saying we had a bad game at all. I’m just saying we had some meltdowns. And when you have meltdowns against great players, you usually pay the price and we did,” said Boudreau when he was asked about the increased number of turnovers by Washington compared to the wins the Caps had earlier this week.
As for the offense, Semin continues to torch Carolina and he now has 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in five games against the Canes this season (he has 34 points (19g-15a) in 23 career games against the Hurricanes). Alexander Ovechkin notched his 49th goal of the season on the power play and added an assist while both Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green each had a goal and an asssit. The Washington power play went 3 for 4 tonight. However, the bad news was that Semin, Green, Ovechkin, and Backstrom were a combined -10!
“He was on for every goal. He was where the action was, that’s for sure. Offensively, he was great,” added Boudreau on Semin.
But you could tell by the manner in which Boudreau delivered that quote indicated he was not happy with his top scorers overall because they were not responsible defensively on Saturday. In fact, Boudreau had to break up Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin in the third period, he switched out Semin for Viktor Kozlov on the top line, because those guys were playing too loose and leaving Theodore to mostly fend for himself. When guys like Keith Aucoin, Eric Fehr, and Brooks Laich, who didn’t score any goals but did draw the penalty that put the Caps on the power play for their first goal and played hard all night, were brought up to Boudreau he seemed to show more enthusiasm with his answer.
“On any team, you need guys who know what their role is. [Matt] Bradley isn’t going to score like Alex [Ovechkin] and [Alexander Semin]. So he knows he’s got to be strong as an energy guy and good defensively. Brooks [Laich] is the same way. He can do a little bit of both and he does a lot of both, but everybody has a role on this team and I think we all know it. [Aucoin-Fehr-Laich] were great. I thought Keith Aucoin was great. For the minutes played, I thought Eric Fehr played really well. We had some breakdowns with our big guns,” said Boudreau.
As for ending the home losing streak Fehr summed it up well.
“(The shootout and giving up a lead) is not the way you want to win games. But we’ll take the two points. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep it up and do well in our division and our conference.”
With this win the Caps are now 43-21-6, good for 92 points and they lead Carolina by 13 points in the Southeast Division and the Florida Panthers by 14 points (Florida has a game in hand) with just 12 games left for Washington. The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins both won on Saturday so the Caps still trail the Bruins by 7 points and New Jersey by one point but the Devils have two games in hand. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur tied Patrick Roy’s career regular-season mark of 551 wins when the New Jersey netminder led the Devils to a 3-1 victory over the hometown Canadiens on Saturday night.
Here are some other notes and thoughts on the game tonight:
Going to the net: The Caps power play, which has been good all season long, has been even better this week because they are going to the net. Laich, in particular, has been a key reason by screening opposing goalies and being in position to tip in shots. Ovechkin went to the net as well tonight and it turned into his 49th goal of the season and nearly had his 50th. When asked about if he is thinking about #50 the Great #8 responded, “We’ll see. If it happens, it happens. Today was a lucky goal.”
Smart and Simple?? As I blogged in the two recent road wins the Caps played Boudreau’s system very well by making the safe and smart play. Tonight, that went out the window on several occasions and the Caps had 17 giveaways from 12 different players. Too many times Washington tried to make some crazy cross ice pass in either the neutral zone or at the Carolina blue line instead of getting the puck deep. The above quotes from Boudreau indicate some frustration with his team’s lack of ability to consistently play the type of smart hockey that will be needed in the playoffs.
Face-offs: The Caps, who were 16-32 from the face off dot in Philly on Thursday, had a horrible first period against the Canes going 7-13 but rebounded the rest of the way and won the overall battle 35-34. Dave Steckel led the way going 10-3 while Backstrom had a decent night going 12-9. Aucoin was 0-4.
More Theodore: #60 made 28 saves and going through my game notes I have him making at least 10 big saves, several of them on breakaways.
#52: Along with Semin, Green was on the ice for every goal this evening. He and John Erskine both misplayed the puck on the play that resulted in Eric Cole’s tally that opened the scoring on a nice feed from Staal. Green did get his 24th goal of the season, to end a seven game drought, but he was seen battling with Cole in front of Washington’s net most of the night.
Shootout Results: After Kozlov didn’t score on his attempt and Theodore stopped Ruutu, Semin made a great move and beat Ward glove side up high. Then after #60 stopped Jokinen, the Great #8 came in and blasted the puck five hole on Ward to end the game. Jose Theodore is 3-1 in shootouts this season, stopping 17-of-22 shots faced (77.3%). He is 12-3 in his career, stopping 50 of 75 shots (66.7%).
Other Stats and Facts: Ovechkin now has a point in each of his last 10 games (7g-7a), giving him his third 10-game point streak this season. The Capitals are 28-4-2 when Ovechkin scores. Washington has now scored at least one power-play goal in 17 of their last 21 games and are 32.9% in that time (26-of-79), including 45.7% in the first period (16-of-35). The Caps are 33-13-3 when scoring a power-play goal. Washington recorded two first-period goals tonight to lead the NHL with 74 first-period goals. Each of the last five Washington wins has been by one goal. They are now 18-8-5 in games decided by one goal.
Hershey Bears and Brian Pothier News: The Bears knocked off the Wilkes-Barre Penguins tonight, 3-2, behind the goaltending of Simeon Varlamov (29 saves). I spoke with outstanding Caps Dump and Chase writer, Mike Vogel, after the Washington win tonight about defenseman Pothier. Mike said that Saturday’s contest was his fourth down in the AHL meaning he has one more left before being required to be recalled to the NHL from his conditioning stint. However, Mike did say that the Caps could, and may be considering, petitioning the league for more games in the AHL since Pothier has been out since January 2008 due to a severe concussion.