So . . . About That Goaltending

I wasn’t the most popular fella in these parts when, in the middle of summer, I offered the opinion that losing out on Cristobal Huet and settling for Jose Theodore didn’t exactly inspire dreams of circling around Verizon Center ice with Lord Stanley raised high. To be fair: the Caps pursued Huet with vigor, and lost out having made a very good-faith effort to re-up with him.
But at the time I recall the Capitals’ fanbase responding to the disappointment with something approaching a collective “Oh my f*in god.”
For good reason.
It’s not that Cristobal Huet was the second coming of Johnny Bower; it’s that in a Caps’ sweater, playing behind the Caps’ young D corps last spring, there was chemistry . . . and conspicuous success.
This morning I’m not interested in going back and playing what-ifs; it’s futile and pointless. I will remind though that we are where we are (sh*tsville between the pipes?) because the one area this organization wasn’t prepared for in its rebuild was with a succession plan for Olaf Kolzig. I said that in July and I felt that — thoroughly — on Friday night.
Now, on Saturday, a team with more than one good shooter arrives at Verizon Center.
There is one other important area of the past to acknowledge. Two, actually. The Capitals would not have come close to winning the Southeast and qualifying for the playoffs last season were it not for the stretch-run heroics of Huet. That’s fact. Second, something sublime occurred between Huet and his new defensemen in D.C. — something stunning truly took root; a real reliable chemistry of awareness and predictability of rebound and positioning, allowing for the Caps’ young corps to look more mature and developed than they actually were. That too is fact.
When that dynamic was extinguished, something important was lost. It matters not what you think of Huet as an individual talent, then or today. What matters is what he did while in a Caps’ sweater.
Friday night was, if you want to view it as such, just one game (against a very weak Atlanta team). Or, it was the 445th of Jose Theodore’s career, of which he’s won 183.
Here’s what’s particularly scary about Friday night in Atlanta: Ilya Kovalchuk actually didn’t play that well in the season opener for both teams; the Caps are going to see far more lethal from him this season.
Also, this: that Atlanta team, the one that hung seven on the ‘Cup contenders,’ went 1-6 in the preseason and was slated to finish anywhere between 30th and 27th in the league’s standings. Bryan Little? And there’s more: five more times this season the Thrashers will start Kari Lehtonen in net against the Caps, and no matter who starts in net at the other end there will be a gross mismatch in talent between the pipes. In hockey, that’s a daunting evening factor.
Credit Joe Beninati, calling the game on Comcast last night, for acknowledging on the air that Theodore’s preseason play was sub-par as well. And it wasn’t particularly comforting to see him storm off the ice at his yanking and march straight into the dressing room. Later, he returned to the team bench.
Whatever you thought of Theodore’s career up to this summer, and even if you thought the Caps susceptible of believing too much their preseason press clippings, in your wildest imagination, did you conceive of a second-period yanking in the debut, and against Atlanta?
Early Friday afternoon there was a thread started on the Caps’ message boards themed on Brent Johnson emerging as the Caps’ no. 1 netminder this season. For most of the afternoon, it was met with ridicule. From the vantage of salary, it does seem ludicrous. And yet from the vantage of pure technical ability, it’s not. Jose Theodore has an abundance more raw talent than BJ; still, that BJ stopped the bleeding and was in position to be the winning netminder in the third period Friday night (a converted AO penalty shot might have made that quite feasible) casts a considerably dark cloud over the home opener.
A concluding thought, one that animated my distress back in early July: goalies in their 30s with a decade-plus legacy of inconsistency don’t appreciably change their games by virtue of new contracts in appealing surroundings. However we might wish it so.
Be afraid, friends, be very afraid. No matter how electrifying a team’s left wings, the one constant in hockey is that the most important position on the ice remains between the pipes.

This entry was posted in Brent Johnson, Comcast SportsNet, Joe Beninati, Jose Theodore, Morning cup-a-joe, Olaf Kolzig, TV, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to So . . . About That Goaltending

  1. Varlamov better adjust to the north american game quick. I said it before and I’ll say it again, Varlamov will be the man in DC by the end of this season.

  2. Chris says:

    Should we trade for Khabibulin? He will cost more this season but has on year left on his contact. I was very disappointed in the teams defensive effort last night, we seemed to be off a little bit.

  3. Dan, Jr. says:

    You may be over reacting a bit. It is early yet. Why must we go to such extremes. Huet was never quite as good as a lot of people said last season, and Kolzig was never quite as bad toward the end. Huet had some other guys helping him out there, and was shaky enough to sit out one or two playoff games. Johnny has been a #1 before, and might be worthy now. A lot of people have not given him as much credit as he deserves.

  4. Chicken Little says:

    The sky is falling!
    The sky is falling!
    It’s ONE game in. Huet let in 4 goals and lost. Johnson let in 3 goals and took the loss. Kolzig let in 2 goals and lost. Price let it 2 goals and loss.
    The whole team didn’t play well.

  5. mike says:

    I’m willing to give them a pass on this game, esp. to Theodore. Lets face it, there’s a lot of pressure on the guy and he’s played exactly 1 real game with the Caps.
    Its also a reality checks. Lets stop talking about Stanley Cups and start talking about being a playoff team.

  6. hockeygrl_76 says:

    That was a disappointing game. We looked really inconsistent out there (everyone did). I was shocked that Jose played bad enough to get pulled the first game…I too have always liked Johnny and I think there’s a very good possibility that he will have the oppurtunity to prove himself. Maybe we should have played Jose more during the preseason. How much of this is due to the defense and the goaltender not being used to each other and how much is due to inconsistency from the goalie?
    Can’t wait to see everyone tonight!

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  8. Grunthos says:

    You sound like a diarist at DailyKos or Hot Air.
    1. Hold up any evidence that supports your narrative as iron-clad proof
    2. Dismiss unsupportive facts as irrelevant or, better yet, ignore them entirely
    3. Portray opposing views as strawman arguments
    4. And above all, make sure that the brilliant prescience of your mystic ability to assess Huet’s responsibility for last year’s success *and* Theodore’s responsibility for all of the team’s failings stays at the center of your story.
    I’m no great Theodore fan, and I would have preferred Huet, too. But there were good reasons to make this call, and one game does not prove jack s–t about who can be adjudged to have made the best choice in 20/20 hindsight.
    It’s a blog, and a good one. Post away. But I really expect better from OFB.

  9. pepper says:

    If Theodore starts tonight, which I would think he should, and gets a shutout, are we all happy again? Probably not, because the inconsistency remains.
    Count me in the wishful thinking camp, believing (still) that a goalie, even in this 30s, who has a trophy-winning season can replicate it again, in between years of mediocrity.
    If we did sign Huet for his “new” last-minute asking price, how would we deal with the cap situation then? We would have had to expose someone to waivers like Gordon or Fehr. And he wasn’t coming here anyway.
    The problem is that, even if you feel like Theodore was/is not the answer, there was no better alternative, at least in the FA market (who knows what kind of trades might have been possible, or offered McPhee).

  10. Flipper says:

    Had Mike Green ACTUALLY played some defense last night (he is a defenseman after all), those first two goals may not have happened. Had they not happened, Theodore likely does not get rattled. Does he win the game in that scenario? Who knows, but to lay the blame solely at Jose’s feet is a little short-sighted. The entire team from top to bottom tanked it last night. The only bright spot was Green’s two goals on the power plays. They need to move that boy to the wing and not let him attempt to play defense.

  11. Gustafsson says:

    I agree, Flipper. Green was horrid on defense. Erskine wasn’t much better. Heck, was any of ’em?

  12. Puddin_An_Semin says:

    Bravo, PucksandBooks, Bravo!!!! You totally nailed it on it’s head! We’ll see what happens but I am definitely worried. I am going to run by Costco later to by a jumbo pack of Tums which I plan on selling on 7th street pregame for the fans….it’s gonna be a long long season!

  13. Don says:

    Ive been worried about this signing since day 1. Theodore has not been a good goalie (without a contract year) since he won the Hart and Vezina. that seems like a long time ago, which it was. This man was supplanted by Peter Budaj at the beginning of the year last year and was relegated to the bench, until Budaj started to play badly, and Theodore flourished (but was still wildly inconsistent) under Quennvilles defensive system, which im afraid to tell everyone, we dont play that here. This might have been as poor of a fit as any out there, honestly i’d rather die by a young goalie getting his grip on the league than an old vet playing for a new contract. Im not ready to wave the white flag on the season yet, but we can only hope he doesnt get any worse.

  14. Drew says:

    “Defense via puck control” has got to be the mantra for the remaining 81 games. That’s the game that Boudreau brought to the Caps last season. The chemistry you so eloquently described, p&b, didn’t start with Huet last season. It started with a team commitment that gelled after Bruce arrived and long before Huet donned the jersey.
    I’d sooner hear an argument for replacing weaknesses on the D-line with ready talent like Alzner or Lepisto than a permanent bed of hot coals for Theodore. Boudreau isn’t gonna pull any punches with a goalie, but he gets to call the shots, not the media or the fans.

  15. migz says:

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Give Theodore at least 5-10 games to get comfortable with the Caps Defense & how the Caps really work on the ice.
    Now…I do agree that 2 of the goals were terrible, and should have been stopped with ease for a seasoned goaltender.
    Again the team as a whole – especially the defense was pretty terrible last night. On one of the last goals against Johnson – it was a PK for the Caps – all four guys were around the guy with the puck. Terrible communication by the D & PK last night.
    I can’t claim “OMG the sky is falling yet” but none the less, that was not the way I, nor anyone, was expecting the Caps open the season.
    I’m claiming a mulligan on last night, and look forward to tonight. See ya there!

  16. migz, I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see JT post a shutout tonight. It would be in keeping with a grand pattern.

  17. NS2NOVA says:

    Goaltending was only one of several problems I saw last night. We had problems all over the ice. Poor faceoff stats, a bunch of turnovers, bogging down in the neutral zone, and on and on. Even the coaching staff said that they still had issues with communication between the Goal and the D. Last night was the first indication that it was at issue with both goaltenders.
    I’m still not sold on the Ovie-Semin-Green on the PK experiment. They hit the Caps for points on 3 man-up situations.
    This was only the first game of 82. And last time I checked, nobody has ever gone 82-0-0. (Credit to Capschick for pointing that out). I believe Joe and Locker made a point about the first few weeks in any season the period where players get comfortable and begin to develop chemistry. Even though we have essentially the same team we had at the end of last season, the only difference is in goal. Its not like they’ve had all off season to work together. Theodore played 2 preseason games, and not all with the core group that would make up the regular season roster. So of course there will be problems.
    Lets hold judgement until the end of the first month. If the chemistry hasn’t worked out, make the change. As for Varlemov taking over, I don’t think that’s the solution either. Sure there have been some brilliant flashes in the past such as Cam Ward’s rookie year, or Price’s performance last season. But they appear to be the exceptions that prove the rule, that you can’t beat experience.

  18. Langway says:

    What we’re going to find out is whether or not you can build a team backwards (not from the net out but rather the other way around). That’s what McPhee has done here, perhaps through a simple (yet deadly) lack of foresight.
    There’s vast room for improvement in their end of the ice…but it’s early yet.

  19. Mellyville9 says:

    Lets remember #1 that HUET DID NOT WANT TO RETURN HERE. This isnt like the Caps didnt try to get him back. He chose not to return for whatever reasons. #2 Detroit, The Stanley Cup Champions, are also 0-1. No matter if they let up 7 goals or 2 or 1. Same record as the Caps. I think this was good for the Caps cause I think All this press got to their heads a little bit and now they can just focus on games and realize they are not gonna be handed playoffs. Theodore will be fine. Lets remember Johnson let up 3 goals too and some weak ones to if I may ad. All is well, Caps will be fine.

  20. Jed says:

    Isn’t one game a little quick to scream “I told you the sky is falling?”

  21. macvechkin, fka jr says:

    The Caps will have better days for sure, but when people are questioning your goaltending from the onset and then you get lit up for 7 in the opener, that isn’t sky falling talk, that’s a pretty logical progression. It wasn’t Roberto Luongo flailing out there.

  22. The beat reporter for the Washington Post not only didn’t think much of JT last night but cast his performance in potentially season-defining context. His lead:
    ATLANTA, Oct. 10 — “With one of the NHL’s most potent lineups, the Washington Capitals aren’t expected to have problems producing goals this season. Preventing them, though, may prove to be an issue, if Friday’s ugly 7-4 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers was any indication . . .
    “Boudreau didn’t name names, but one of the players who didn’t perform up to expectations was goaltender Jos?© Th?©odore. Signed in the offseason to be the Capitals’ starter, Th?©odore was pulled after surrendering a fourth goal on 17 shots. He was replaced by Brent Johnson at 9 minutes 30 seconds of the second period after Slava Kozlov beat him on a power-play wrist shot from the circle. Th?©odore barely reacted as the puck zipped past his shoulder, dropping the Capitals behind 4-2 . . .”

  23. pucks: I am in the camp that it’s way too early to say the sky is falling. While Theodore’s career has been inconsistent, lets not forget those 443 games include a Veznia and a Hart Trophy. I thought the whole team could have played better and there was a more then enough early season lack of chemistry to go around. Hopefully, we’ll see a different team tonight. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!

  24. Does anyone know if Jim Carey is available? If not, what about Jim Carrey? Either one would have exceeded the minor league performance we saw in Atlanta. Captain, is that an iceberg up ahead?

  25. Steve says:

    If we made the playoffs last year with Kolzig starting most of the season, then we can make the playoffs with Theodore. Hopefully by the end of the season Varlamov will be ready if Theodore is still struggling. Or perhaps we can trade for Khabibulin.

  26. Tyler says:

    He’ll get better…I hope.

  27. Flying Cloud says:

    Great comments — I learn a lot from this blog. I agree that it probably would take time for the new goalie to get used to the team, but I hope neither he nor the others become accustomed to the way they played last night! Sometimes, they looked like tourists. They have played pretty well in the preseason, they know what to do. Perhaps it was just a temporary identity crisis. In their first game of the long season, they were no longer the Cinderella story of last year, and now they need a new symbolic myth or fairy tale to believe in, hopefully one that Theodore can believe in too. I hope the audience tonight is supportive. It’s bad enough that we don’t have Kolzig, and that he made 37 wonderful saves that were wasted on a Bolts team that also played like a bunch of tourists, and lost their opener. It’s hard to let go of the past and hard not to whine in fear about the future, but we Caps fans, we are known for our patience.

  28. dreux says:

    Trade for Khabibulin. He’s a Stanley Cup-winning Russian and the perfect mentor for Varlamov. Khabibulin/Varlamov is a combo we can be happy with. Theodore/Johnson spells disaster.

  29. Summer87 says:

    @migz, re Mulligan:

  30. doughless says:

    this is ridiculous: 2 games in and some Caps fans have already blown all 4 wheels. I agree with someone who earlier said they expect more from OFB. drink som,e beer, or something.

  31. M says:

    Puddin_An_Semin, I will def be a frequent buyer of your Tums. Fridays game was horrible and the blame can’t totally be placed on the goalies. The whole team needs to step up and play some D. Having said that last nights win was awesome, however everytime Chicago got close to our crease I held my breath waiting for the D to clear the zone. Im not ready to give up on the team just yet. The talent is there. I just hope that the goaltenders and D men hurry up and learn eachothers style of play before to much damage is done. Lets see what happens on Monday.

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