By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 29, 2008
José Theodore saved his best performance -- and first shutout -- as a Washington Capital for the one game he wanted to win more than any other.
Two years after suffering an embarrassing meltdown in his hometown, against the team for whom he starred before an acrimonious breakup, Theodore settled an old score against the Montreal Canadiens last night before a sold-out crowd at Verizon Center, stopping all 28 shots he faced to lift the injury-plagued Capitals to a 3-0 victory.
"He was fabulous," Coach Bruce Boudreau, who became the fastest Capitals coach to 50 wins (84) as his team improved to 9-0-1 at home. "He was square to the puck. There were no big rebounds. The saves in the second period, for about five minutes there, were pretty dazzling with his acrobatics and athletic skills."
Tomas Fleischmann, Alex Ovechkin and David Steckel supplied the offense for a Capitals team that was missing seven players whose names appeared on the opening night roster. Theodore did just about everything else.
"Seeing these young guys with not a lot of experience come in and play with a lot of composure motivated me to make the next save," Theodore said. "When you can get two points with key guys missing, that's huge."
The two points were indeed huge. But the victory meant so much more to Theodore.
A native of Laval, Quebec, he was drafted by the Canadiens in 1994 and won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in the bleu, blanc and rouge in 2002. But he was stung by the trade that sent him to Colorado in March 2006.
Eight months later, Theodore made his first start against the Canadiens as a member of the Avalanche. The result wasn't pretty. He surrendered eight goals, five in the third period, in an 8-5 defeat.
"The last game I played was not a fun game," Theodore said. "I played 500 games with them, but you've got to turn the page."
Now he finally can.
"When you are traded as a goalie, it means they don't believe in you, that you can't do the job," Donald Brashear said of the significance of Theodore's win. "Even though he gave them some good years, you could tell this means a lot to him. He was our best player tonight."
Ovechkin wasn't bad, either. The reigning MVP continued his torrid scoring pace, notching his 11th goal in the past 10 games while taking seven shots on goal. Fleischmann scored his fifth goal in eight games and rookie defenseman Karl Alzner, skating in only his second NHL game, took more shifts (28) than any other Capital.
"When we have a good defense and good goaltending we play well," Ovechkin said. "Before the game [Theodore] didn't talk. He just concentrated on the game and he played unbelievable."
But the victory wasn't only satisfying for Theodore, considering the depleted lineup. The Capitals were without Tom Poti (groin), Mike Green (bruised shoulder), Alexander Semin (upper back strain), Sergei Fedorov (sprained ankle) and John Erskine (mild concussion). All of them are officially listed as day-to-day, though it's unlikely any will suit up tonight in Columbus.
Because of the recent rash of injuries, the Capitals signed minor league defenseman Bryan Helmer to a contract yesterday, then recalled the 36-year-old from Hershey. With Helmer in the lineup, four of the Capitals' six defensemen last night had begun the season playing for the Bears. In fact, Montreal defensemen Roman Hamrlik and Patrice Brisebois each had played more games in the NHL -- 1,096 and 964, respectively -- than all the Capitals' defensemen combined (669).
Despite the inexperience throughout the lineup, the Capitals emerged from the first period leading 1-0 on Fleischmann's ninth goal of the season.
And what a goal it was. Canadiens defenseman Francis Bouillon attempted to make an outlet pass from behind the net. But the puck was picked off by Fleischmann, who made a cross-crease pass to Michael Nylander, who, in turn, passed it right back to Fleischmann. Jaroslav Halak, who had already gone from post-to-post once, didn't have a chance.
The scoreless second period was the result of a goaltending duel between Theodore and Halak, who was starting in place of Montreal's No. 1 netminder, Carey Price, who was given the night off.
Halak made seven saves, including on eye-popping stop, stoning Viktor Kozlov on a two-on-one with Ovechkin. Theodore, though, was a little bit better. He thwarted all 13 shots he faced in the second. His best stop was a sliding pad save on Alex Kovalev, but it was a series of sprawling stops around the game's midway mark that elicited his first standing ovation in Washington since joining the Capitals as a free agent this summer.
In the third period, Ovechkin retrieved a puck from the corner, blasted down the goal line and jammed the puck between Halak's pads at 3:48. Then Steckel made it 3-0 when he redirected a point shot from Sami Lepisto.
"If you're going to put importance on [the shutout], it would be for Theodore's mind-set," Boudreau said. "For us, it was about getting the win."