Theodore Staking Claim to Top Spot

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Washington Capitals goaltender José Theodore said he's seeing the puck as clearly and stopping shots with as much confidence as he has at any point since before the lockout that scuttled the 2004-05 season.

Indeed, Theodore's 1-2-2 record is more an indication of his team's struggles rather than his own. The latest evidence of the 33-year-old goalie's renewed focus came in the Capitals' 3-2 shootout loss to New Jersey on Monday, when he made 27 saves, including a pair of highlight stops in overtime before yielding goals on both of the Devils' penalty shot attempts.

"Like I said in camp, I came here with a purpose," Theodore said. "I just have to say it's all about having confidence and right now, I'm feeling really good about where my game is. I've had some good stretches, but this is the best I've felt since before the lockout."

No one -- not even Theodore -- knew how he would perform after the death of his two-month-old son in August. After Tuesday's practice, he made his first public comments about how the tragedy affected his preparation for the season.

"I came to camp with mixed emotions," Theodore said. "The first part of the summer, my mind wasn't really on hockey. But when I was coming here in August, I was obviously working twice as hard to make up for [lost] time and training with a lot of frustration and, I guess, doing extra training on the ice, just letting everything out."

After five appearances, Theodore has a 2.65 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. More important, he appears to be winning the confidence of Coach Bruce Boudreau, who has yet to commit to Theodore or rookie Semyon Varlamov as the Capitals' No. 1.

Boudreau wouldn't divulge his starting goaltender for Thursday's game against the San Jose Sharks, but he reiterated how impressed he's been with Theodore, who has started the past three games.

"He's playing well," Boudreau said. "He certainly gave us a point" against the Devils.

Boudreau Switches It Up

In his ongoing search for balance on his top two lines, Boudreau switched things up again Tuesday, having Brendan Morrison centered Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble and putting Nicklas Backstrom on the second line between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin.

"We would like to get all four lines scoring, but definitely more than one," Boudreau said. "I tinkered with it today, and I might change again tomorrow. This is the way I wanted to go to see the reaction and body language of everyone concerned. Sometimes you change the lines and guys go from happy to sad in a heartbeat. But I think everybody accepted it pretty well."

On Monday, the second line of Laich-Morrison-Semin was on the ice for both Devils goals. Laich and Semin went without a point for the second straight game after hot starts.

"We're looking for a little bit of spark up front, maybe some chemistry between other guys," said Morrison, who skated with Ovechkin in an official capacity for the first time since joining the Capitals in July. "I think there's going to be a lot of interchange [between the top six forwards] all season, depending on who's going. It could be a good thing because it gives other teams different looks."

Trio Get the Day Off

John Erskine, Tom Poti and Boyd Gordon all missed practice. Erskine is day-to-day after leaving Monday's game in the second period with an upper body injury. Poti and Gordon -- both of whom battled injuries last season -- were given maintenance days.

Although defenseman Brian Pothier has been one of the Capitals' steadiest players on the blue line this season, he was benched late in the third period after the Devils hemmed Washington in its own end and scored the equalizer. The Capitals were already down to five defensemen because of the absence of Erskine.

"He wasn't playing very well," Boudreau said of Pothier. "Brian will be the first to tell you that yesterday, he wasn't very good. Every now and again people struggle."

Boudreau hasn't played veteran Michael Nylander yet this season, but the two had a rare conversation on the ice after practice. Don't, however, read too much into it, Boudreau cautioned.

"It was friendly; he was smiling and I was smiling," Boudreau said. "There was no argument. We were just talking about life, and that's where it stood."

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