WASHINGTON – Washington Capitals goalie Jose Theodore hadn’t made a start in nearly two weeks thanks to teammate Brent Johnson’s winning streak.
When Theodore had a chance to get back into net for the Capitals Friday night, he made it count. His only blemish was a late breakaway goal against his 32 saves. His goaltending, along with goals by Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann, led to the Capitals’ 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils.
Washington’s Alexander Semin – the NHL scoring leader entering the game with 27 points – left the game late in the second period with an undisclosed injury. The team said his status is day-to-day. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game he didn’t know what had happened to Semin.
“He’ll be fine tomorrow, as far as I know,” Boudreau said.
Alex Ovechkin added an empty-net goal in the final minute for the Capitals, his fifth of the season.
Johnson had started the past five games for the Capitals, with an overtime loss followed by four straight wins. But Johnson was forced to leave Wednesday’s game at Carolina after injuring his hip. Theodore stepped in after the first period and closed out Washington’s 5-1 victory.
“I think the last game, playing two periods got the rust out of my legs,” Theodore said. “All day after practice I felt good and I knew I’d be ready for tonight’s game.”
Boudreau called Friday Theodore’s best performance of the season. His best play came late in the second period, when he made a stick save on Zach Parise’s shot, knocking the puck away just before it crossed into the net.
“That’s just when you really focus, you kind of do those last-minute, last-second reactions,” Theodore said. “That’s just a lucky break.”
Theodore’s play kept Washington from regretting missed opportunities. In the opening minute of the game, the Capitals missed a chance at a lead. Tom Poti had an open shot from the left side after New Jersey goalie Scott Clemmensen slid to the right, but his shot bounced off the post.
“Any time you get the golden opportunities and you don’t put them in you worry they’re going to come back and bite you,” Boudreau said.
The Capitals took the lead midway through the first period when Laich deflected a shot by Ovechkin. Ovechkin took a pass from Mike Green by the blue-line during a power play, skated to his left and fired from near the top of the left circle. Ovechkin was initially given credit for the goal, but it was Laich who ended up with his fourth goal of the season.
A penalty for too many men on the ice against New Jersey led to the goal.
“It’s not a smart penalty, it’s not intelligent,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “We almost had the penalty killed off, we made a mistake and were caught out of position.”
The Capitals got some breathing room with another score late in the second period.
Victor Kozlov brought the puck out from behind the net and found Fleischmann in the left circle. Fleischmann hammered home the shot for a 2-0 lead with 1:29 left.
New Jersey avoided a shutout when Patrick Elias scored on a breakaway at the 11:55 mark in the third period, sending his shot right between Theodore’s legs.
“They got caught on the change,” Elias said. “I know I was going in all alone so I took my time.”
The game matched up two teams moving in opposite directions. The Devils (7-7-2) have lost four in a row.
“Not winning games is getting frustrating,” Devils right wing Brian Gionta said. “We’ve got to find a way to win games.”
The Capitals (10-4-2), on the other hand, have won five straight and reached 10 wins faster than any previous Washington team since the 1991-92 team started 10-3-0.
After the game, Boudreau said Theodore’s performance Friday had earned him another start Saturday when the two teams meet again in New Jersey.
“He’s played some pretty good games,” Boudreau said. “But he had to make more 10-bell type saves tonight than any other time.”
Notes: Saturday will be the only time this season Washington plays the same opponent in back-to-back games. The Devils played a home-and-home series against Philadelphia earlier this year, going 0-1-1. … Capitals C Michael Nylander was a healthy scratch. … Kozlov’s assist on Fleischmann’s goal was his 500th career point.