ARLINGTON, Va. – There’s nothing like juicy bulletin-board material to accompany the announcement of a starting goaltender.
Jose Theodore was not only was formally anointed the No. 1 goalie for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, he also proved he can give as good as he can get when it comes to taking a dig at the opposition.
The back-and-forth started when Montreal Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec was quoted in a Montreal newspaper, talking about the Capitals’ goaltender situation.
“It’s not as though we are facing Brodeur or Miller,” Plekanec said, according to the paper. “They don’t have a dominant goaltender. When you look at the goaltending matchup in this series it favours our team. I just believe that our goaltending is more solid than theirs. I’m not saying their goalies are bad. I’m just saying our goalies are better.”
After Washington’s practice Tuesday, Theodore was ready with a response.
“Tomas who? Jagr?” Theodore said with a smirk. “Oh, Plekanec, OK. I thought you meant Jagr.”
So while it’s clearly established that neither Martin Brodeur, Ryan Miller nor Jaromir Jagr will be on the ice when the top-seeded Capitals host the eighth-seeded Canadiens in Game 1 on Thursday, the ones who are taking part already have some axes to grind.
“The reason why we have the record we have is because of Jose,” Capitals defenceman Mike Green said. “He’s won us more than a handful of games this year just by himself. For (Plekanec) to say that is a little unnecessary.”
The gibes quickly overshadowed the confirmation that Theodore will indeed be patrolling the net. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau had been playing coy about his starting goaltender and had not planned to announce a starter until Thursday, but he said he was getting tired of being “bombarded” by the question.
“There’s no need to ask the question anymore,” the coach said.
The decision was no big surprise. Theodore ended the regular season on a club-record 23-game streak without a regulation loss (20-0-3), but Boudreau has been known to do the unpredictable with his goalies. A year ago, he benched former league MVP Theodore after just one game in the playoffs and replaced him with playoff neophyte Semyon Varlamov, who anchored the Capitals until a Game 7 loss in the second round.
Asked about Plekanec’s Brodeur-Miller comments, Boudreau made the case for Theodore.
“I’ll take Jose’s record the last 23 games over those two guys,” the coach said. “The reason quite frankly that I wasn’t saying anything was just to keep everybody on their toes, but I told Jose last week and he knew he was going to be the starter and he’s earned it.
“It’s quite a different situation than it was from this year to last year. He’s been our guy. What people don’t realize was last year, his 10 previous games before going into the playoffs weren’t anywhere near what his 10 previous games are here, so there is no short leash. He’s the guy we’re going to go with and see how he goes.”
Theodore has endured an emotional, tragic 12 months. Getting benched during the playoffs became trivial when he lost his two-month-old son, who died in August from respiratory complications following a premature birth. When Theodore returned for training camp, it was assumed he would be at best a veteran placeholder for the up-and-coming Varlamov.
“A lot of people counted me out when the season started, for different reasons,” Theodore said. “It was a big challenge for me to have a solid season.”
But Varlamov spent much of the season injured, and Theodore showed down the stretch why the starting job should be his.
“He did it in the face of a lot of adversity this year,” Boudreau said. “I give him full credit for everything he’s done.”
The series will take Theodore back to Montreal, where he played parts of nine seasons and won the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2002. When he made a relief appearance there in February, he was serenaded derisively with chants of “Tay-Oh!”
In his only start as a visitor in Montreal, he allowed eight goals as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2006. He is 2-0 against the Canadiens in Washington since joining the Capitals, and he has never faced the Canadiens in the playoffs.
Theodore didn’t have much to say about facing his old team and the chanting fans, and Boudreau shrugged it off.
“We like the song,” Boudreau said. “They can sing it all they want because they’re always in unison. … As a player that never affected me. I don’t think it should affect him. He should be excited to play there.”
Notes: Washington C Nicklas Backstrom missed practice with an illness. Boudreau said Backstrom is questionable for Thursday. … Montreal’s goaltender will be an unfamiliar face: Carey Price was in goal for all four Canadiens-Capitals game this season, instead of top goalie Jaroslav Halak. “It’s different,” Boudreau said, “but we’re still going to shoot the puck.”