Capitals-Canadiens series could be determined by Montreal power play, Washington penalty killing

The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir and John Feinstein talk about the elements the Caps need to make a run deep in to the playoffs including the goaltending situation and how the team stacks up against the Eastern Conference.
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

While there are dozens of matchups that could affect the outcome of the Washington Capitals' first-round playoff series against Montreal, one has Coach Bruce Boudreau more concerned than any other: the Canadiens' prolific power play.

"They've killed us on it," Boudreau said. "They move the puck, they shoot and they go to the net. Hopefully we'll be able to stay out of the box."

Although the Canadiens tallied the fewest goals in the NHL at even strength in the regular season (132 compared with Washington's league-leading 213), the Canadiens were dominant with the man advantage. They scored 57 times on the power play, a conversion rate of 21.8 percent, which ranked second only to the Capitals' 25.2 percent.

In the teams' four regular season meetings, the Canadiens scored on a power play five times and at least once in each of the games. The unit also proved to be efficient in the teams' final three meetings, amassing 10 shots and four goals in eight power-play opportunities.

Combine that proficiency with a Capitals' penalty kill that has struggled this season -- it ranks 25th overall in the league -- and you can see why Boudreau has concerns.

In fact, the Capitals, in the regular season, were 30-2-3 when they did not allow a power-play goal, and conversely were 24-13-10 when they did.

Montreal's power play isn't all Boudreau has on his mind ahead of Thursday's best-of-seven series opener at Verizon Center, which will mark the first time the teams have met in the postseason.

Boudreau has declined to name his starting goaltender for Game 1, reiterating Monday that he still hasn't informed the goalies of his decision. But there's a growing sense around Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the team's practice facility, that the coach plans to start José Theodore and has remained coy on the subject because he does not want to show his hand.

"If I tell you now, then you're going to be asking these guys and digging to see what you can get from them," Boudreau said. "So if they don't know, how can they tell you?"

The play of Theodore and fellow goalie Semyon Varlamov over the past two months suggests that Boudreau will turn to Theodore, who went 20-0-3 in his final 23 decisions while posting a 2.58 goals against average and a .922 save percentage during that span. Another reason Boudreau figures to use Theodore? The 33-year-old goalie was clutch down the stretch, yielding only nine goals in the third period (on 229 shots) since the start of his run on Jan. 13.

Theodore, however, is 2-1-0 against with a 4.05 goals against average and .877 save percentage against his hometown team since being traded away by Montreal in 2006. He did not start a game against the Canadiens this season and has not started at Bell Centre since joining the Capitals in 2008. In his only appearance there this season -- in relief of an injured Michal Neuvirth in February -- he allowed four goals on 25 shots, including Tomas Plekanec's overtime winner.

"I'm not really concerned with his record there," Boudreau said. "The playoffs are a whole new season. And Varly's had a good record against them, so we'll see."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company