Before the puck was dropped for the Washington Capitals‘ home opener against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, the Caps had a ceremony to raise the 2007-08 Southeast Division championship banner.
Coach Bruce Boudreau would rather they have hung the net from the goal his team defended in Atlanta on Friday in its season-opening 7-4 loss.
That is the memory the coach wants fresh in minds of his players - not last season’s honors.
“I am trying to get away from talking about last year because that was last year and this is this year, and it is a whole different scenario,” Boudreau said before Saturday night’s game. “The more we start thinking about last year then you have results like you have last night.”
You can’t have too many results like the seven goals the Capitals allowed against the Thrashers, or else it defeats the purpose of having a goalie. And within the first 30 seconds of Saturday’s game, fans may have wondered what the point was of having Jose Theodore in the net.
But the free-agent signee managed to play as if he understands what a goalie’s purpose is. Theodore blanked the Blackhawks in the second and third periods in the Capitals’ 4-2 victory.
“I think it was a little bit maybe of me being too anxious, of wanting to do too much, and forgetting about having fun out there,” Theodore said. “I just stopped thinking and just [remembered you need to] have a good time and do what you do.”
Just 26 seconds into the game, the puck went by Theodore for a 1-0 Chicago lead on a goal by forward Kris Versteeg. Twelve minutes later, Theodore gave up a goal to forward Jack Skille and the crowd rumbled with low-level boos. Capitals forward Matt Bradley’s goal about two minutes later at least stopped that sinking feeling rushing through the arena.
Reporters once asked Hall of Fame baseball manager Casey Stengel why he picked catcher Hobie Landrith as the first choice in the 1962 expansion draft to put together the roster for the New York Mets. Stengel replied, “Well, if you don’t have a catcher, you’re going to have a lot of passed balls.”
Well, if you don’t have a goalie, you’re going to chase a lot of pucks into the net, as they did Friday night.
With all the hoopla about the Capitals, this was the one area where the team looked vulnerable. They failed to re-sign their hot goalie from last year’s stretch run, Cristobal Huet, who signed with Chicago.
Then it seemed as if the front office had to scramble to find the only credible goalie on the free agent market - Theodore, a former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner in Montreal whose production had nose-dived but who had appeared to return to form last year with Colorado.
He came to Washington with the burden of replacing a legend of the past and one in the making. Longtime No. 1 goalie Olie Kolzig fell out of favor with Boudreau last year and signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. Huet won fans over with his sterling goaltending during the Caps’ late-season surge to the division title.
The idea was that Theodore and veteran Brent Johnson would split the playing time this season to establish a level of at least average goaltending - the standard that the team determined it needed because of its explosive offense.
Seven goals, though, between the two of them Friday night - four against Theodore halfway through the second period and three in just over two minutes against Johnson - was well below average.
Some Capitals fans at Verizon Center on Saturday night were a little shellshocked by what they had seen the night before.
“Last night, my television almost went out the window,” Leesburg, Va., resident Johnny Sayer said. “If we have someone between the pipes who can block the puck, we should get between 95 and 110 points. We have the offense, a decent defense, so my expectations are high. But right now I am a little worried about the goaltending situation. It looks like it could be a mess.”
Fairfax resident Jason Lesnik has high expectations for the team this season.
“But we were a little worried about [Friday] night,” Lesnik said. “It was hard to see Kolzig go. That hurt a lot because he had done so much for this franchise. He was the backbone. They have had so much thrown at them this year, about how they are going to be an exciting team, and being on the covers of magazines and all that, maybe this will be a reality check for them. It should be.”
That’s what Boudreau hoped for when he sent Theodore and the rest of the starters out on the ice Saturday night.
“We put the onus back on the same group of guys who planned to come back and see if they can do better,” he said.
They did, and when Alex Ovechkin put the game away late in the final period, the fans chanted “MVP … MVP” as they enjoyed the homecoming they expected to see.
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