For much of this season, it has all been about asserting that while Semyon Varlamov would rightly be this franchise starter, it should be Michal Neuvirth backing him up and not Jose Theodore.
Jose was the black sheep, the uncouth orphan, the one who needed to be dumped as soon as humanly possible. No doubt Neuvirth will have his time, but tonight’s 44 save effort by Theodore, allowing the Capitals to win a 3-2 game they never should have been in, should rightfully do much to silence the critics.
And yes I know Theo isn’t perfect and still gives up too many rebounds, but nights like this show you that he still has the capacity to take games over.
“Without him it could have easily been six nothing at the end of the first period,” said Boudreau of Jose afterwards, but Theodore wasn’t the only guy who unexpectedly turned the tide for Washington. Let’s let Bruce explain:
“It’s not all about Ovy, Semin, and Nicky. Tonight it was Theo and Steckel and Bradley and good teams have plenty of guys who at some point can all step up and win you games,” said Boudreau afterwards.
Matt Bradley scored a key goal to tie the game at 1 and David Steckel scored the eventually game winner, batting in an Alexander Semin shot that was deflected on its way by a Red Wings defender and knocking it out of the air to produce his biggest goal of the year.
But none of David’s late game theatrics would have been possible had Theodore not closed the door early. In the first Jose stopped a Todd Bertuzzi breakaway staying left to right with him the whole way without giving up an inch of room, waiting for Bertuzzi to make the initial move.
Theodore also stopped a Pavel Datsyuk tip pass near the net, a screened shot in the middle slot by Drew Miller that Jose just got a pad on at the last end, and a backhand by Henrik Zetterberg in tight on the left just 15 seconds into the game, as the Red Wings fired off 15 shots in the period.
As for the Capitals first period offense, well it was almost non-existent.
Detroit was aggressive in the penalty kill and in the neutral zone as they played usually with at least two and sometimes three forwards deep in the Caps neutral zone to make sure Washington didn’t have an inch of space to maneuver in the rare instances that the puck was actually out of our end. How bad did it get? Well the fact that the Red Wings outshot the Caps 15-3 in the first doesn’t tell the full story, it’s actually even worse than that. The Capitals went over ten minutes without a shot and at one point were being outshot 12-0 by the Red Wings. To say the least, it wasn’t pretty, or as Boudreau more aptly put it, “it was like men versus boys. I don’t think we touched the puck.”
We’ve seen this team throughout the season make one period look completely different from the last, Still, any hopes the Capitals would finally right the ship in the second and give their goaltender a breather were quickly dashed as Zetterberg less than one minute in was given an open invitation by Tom Poti and Tyler Sloan (who I thought was horrible tonight) to walk right in front of Theo’s crease from behind the Capitals net.
Theodore managed to save Zetterberg’s wrap around and pulled off what would be miraculous save, stretching out to save Brad Stuart’s quick shot in the middle slot of the rebound of Zetterberg’s shot.
But while Theodore held up the fort for long enough, the wave after wave of Red Wings attacks finally took its toll, as you only get lucky for so long when the opposition has twice as many shots.
With over four minutes gone in the second, the puck would come to Red Wings forward Valtteri Flippula down low on the right near Theodore’s crease. With Dan Cleary driving on the other side the Red Wings had a sudden two-on-one in tight on the goal and this time they made it count.
Flippula drove hard on the goal, shooting it off Theo’s pad with the puck slowly coming to Cleary on the left. Cleary then made a remarkable play, as he shot the puck on net while falling down from a very extreme angle near the goal line. It would go off Theodore’s equipment, as Jose wouldn’t be ready for the second shot, giving the Wings a 1-0 lead with 15:43 left in the 2nd.
Maybe the Detroit goal finally woke the Caps up because Semin would have a great chancein close on a two-on-one chance after receiving a pass from Brooks Laich. Thought relatively untested to that point, Chris Osgood would make the save and that would be the best Capitals chance till they actually struck pay dirt.
As we said earlier, the savior would come in the form of one Matt Bradley, who seems to have scored each one of his eight goals at big moments this year.
The play happened as Mike Green on the left side of the Capitals blue line would send a perfectly placed diagonal pass to Boyd Gordon just outside the Wings blue line on the right. Gordon then went into Detriot’s zone and made a simple pass to Bradley who was charging in on the net and had just enough time to receive the pass, beating defender Jonathan Ericsson on the play, and sending it past Osgood to tie the game at 1.
By all accounts, the Capitals did not deserve to have been tied to end either the first or second period. As Steckel said afterwards, “Detroit pretty much outplayed us for the entire game.” Yet thanks to Theodore standing on his head and Gordon and Bradley executing on a simple play, the Capitals had a chance to steal the win.
The opposition by now should know that you can only allow the Capitals to stay in the game for so long before they strike. For that reason alone, Bertuzzi needed to not take a tripping penalty with 7:20 left in the game, with Brian Rafalski (who was outstanding throughout the night) just two minutes earlier giving the Red Wings a 2-1 lead. Give a team like the Capitals an opening, and despite the many Russian’s on this squad, you better be prepared like Gorbachev for that wall to come tumbling down.
It sure did for the Red Wings, as on the ensuing power play, Nicklas Backstrom niftily moved around Brad Stuart before shooting it by Osgood’s pads. Less than forty seconds later, it would be Steckel scoring near the net to send an already delirious crowd into a near pandemonium.
60 minutes of hard Red Wings work, lost because of 35 seconds. That’s the Washington Capitals for you. To be fair though, I have to think we’ll need a stronger effort though this Thursday in Pittsburgh. Like the rest of you, I can’t wait!