By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009
BOSTON, Oct. 1 -- José Theodore waited more than five months for the chance to redeem himself after his shaky performance in the playoff opener last April.
On Thursday in the Washington Capitals' season opener at TD Garden, the veteran goaltender made up for lost time. Theodore made 19 saves, including 10 during a frantic first period, and Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich supplied the offense to lead the Capitals to a 4-1 victory over the powerful Boston Bruins.
"Let's just say I was anxious to get back on the ice," Theodore said. "I was ready in the preseason, solid, really focused. They had a couple of shots early, and I was seeing the puck well and making a lot of saves comfortably by being in good position."
Ovechkin and Laich scored two goals apiece, but it was Theodore's play early that kept the Capitals in the game.
"The power play was good, but José Theodore, I thought, was excellent tonight," Laich said. "We are so happy for him. He played so well. In the first 10 minutes, he held us in there and was a key to victory tonight."
Laich's two power-play goals highlighted an all-around impressive performance by Washington's special teams. The power play finished 2 for 4 and the Tom Poti-led penalty kill went 5 for 5 to help the Capitals claim their first regulation victory in Boston in 15 games, a stretch of futility that dated from December 2000.
"If you could bottle that game up, we would take it every time," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We weathered the first six minutes because we knew they were going to come out [strong]. After that, we played really, really well."
The Bruins went down quietly, mustering only three shots on goal in the third period.
The season couldn't have gotten off to a better start for Theodore, who was pulled in his debut as a Capital in Atlanta a year ago, a loss that foreshadowed an inconsistent regular season and disastrous start to the playoffs. Theodore was replaced after Game 1 of the postseason, a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers. He didn't get a second chance.
"I'm really happy for José because he's been a much-maligned goaltender," Boudreau said. "When our defense is playing as well as it did and forwards are coming back as well as they did, and he made the saves at the right time, boy, it looks easy."
Defenseman Brian Pothier added: "The one thing that other people can't see is that he was communicating phenomenally [with the defense]. That lets me know he's locked into the game, he's looking, he's aware. That's what we need, is for him to keep us in the game early."
The Capitals' first line was just as impressive as Theodore.
Although Boudreau had used Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble as his top forward combination for most of the preseason, the coach opted to replace Knuble with Alexander Semin against the Bruins. Boudreau declined to say why he made the switch, but he needed no explanation after the game. Ovechkin and Backstrom each finished with three points and Semin chipped in with two.
The trio combined to score a highlight goal midway through the second period to put the Capitals ahead 2-0. It began with Backstrom sending a crossing pass to Semin, who made a no-look drop pass to a streaking Ovechkin. The two-time MVP finished the play off by rifling a shot from the high slot past Tim Thomas (30 saves).
The Capitals put the game away in the opening two minutes of the third period. Laich stuffed a loose puck past an unsuspecting Thomas 16 seconds in and then Ovechkin finished a crossing pass from Poti at 1 minute 57 seconds to put the Capitals ahead 4-0.
The only blemish for Theodore came midway through the third when Patrice Bergeron deked him on a breakaway.
Boudreau said he plans to start rookie Semyon Varlamov in Saturday's home opener. But with a standout performance Thursday, Theodore showed he's not going to easily concede the No. 1 status he brought into training camp.
"It's obviously a better start than my start last year," Theodore cracked. "Tonight was just about putting everything together."
Capitals Notes: Although Michael Nylander did not appear in a preseason game and was a healthy scratch against the Bruins, the veteran center accompanied the team to Boston and participated in the morning skate. His days with the Capitals, though, appear numbered, Boudreau said.
"It's well documented that we're trying to do something," he said of Nylander, who fell out of favor with the coaching staff and management last season. "Whether it's Michael or the Washington Capitals or the fans, [nobody] wants to see this drag on. I don't think it's good for Michael and I don't think it's good for us. Hopefully the resolution comes rather quick." . . .
Neither Tomas Fleischmann (deep vein thrombosis) nor Eric Fehr (shoulder surgery) has been placed on the long-term injury list, so that means the Capitals expect both back before the season is 10 games or 24 days old. Fehr said he could play next week. . . .
Prospect Chris Bourque, who had been set to make his season debut in his home town for the Capitals before being claimed by Pittsburgh, is expected to be the Penguins' 13th forward.