The Washington Capitals were eliminated in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, but their post-season still ended on something of a high.
Their highly entertaining confrontation with the Philadelphia Flyers could just as easily have gone in their favor and they could have been the Cinderella team in the East that went deep into the spring.
Nonetheless, a feeling persisted they could/would be the next version of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a sickly talented group that emerged from the depths of the NHL to find elite status.
And that may still transpire. But much of that hope now rests on the enigmatic shoulders of new netminder Jose Theodore.
The Caps lost a major stabilizing force when incumbent Cristobal Huet decided to test free agency and bolted to Chicago July 1. In Huet, you know what you’re getting: a top 10 goalie who may not steal as many games as a Martin Brodeur or Roberto Luongo, but one who won’t lose you many, either. He was a very good fit for a team on the rise.
GM George McPhee deserves credit for acting swiftly in securing Plan B, but, if I’m a Caps fan, it’s going to be a while before I find a comfort level with the team’s new No. 1 man.
We all know Theodore, still young at 31, has the physical composition to be one of the league’s best stoppers. His Hart and Vezina trophies in 2002 are testaments to his skill.
It’s the ensuing years that would have me nervous. His plunge in Colorado, and accompanying off-ice distractions, had some thinking he was playing himself out of the league.
His resurrection of sorts last season made for a feel-good story, but it’s one that is awaiting an ending. Apparently he has his game back, and he did look fantastic at times in 2007-08, particularly in the first round of the playoffs against Minnesota. Avs goalie coach Jeff Hackett worked wonders with him and Theodore says he has regained the confidence he needs to be one of the best.
I hope that’s true for his sake and his team’s. I think it would be good for the league if the Capitals emerged as a dominant club. I’m just less sure about that outcome now than I was before July 1.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog normally appears every weekend.
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