WASHINGTON – Brent Johnson, backup goalie. It’s been his job description for the past six years, and there was no indication it would change after the Washington Capitals signed standout Jose Theodore in July.
Johnson hasn’t quite earned the No. 1 job yet, but he’s no longer merely a once-a-week sub. Starting in a third straight game for an inconsistent Theodore, Johnson had 28 saves – including a pivotal stop on a penalty shot in the third period – to lead the Capitals past the New York Rangers 3-1 on Saturday night.
“Brent kept us in the game,” Washington forward Brooks Laich said. “He’s seeing everything. He’ll probably say the puck looks like the size of a beach ball.”
“I’m just seeing the puck real well,” said Johnson, who is 3-0-2 as a starter and has turned aside 102 of 107 shots during his three-game run.
Whether that will enable him to be an everyday goalie for the first time since 2001-02 with the St. Louis Blues, well, that’s anyone’s guess.
“He might (start) Monday again, but Wednesday we might have a different No. 1. I’m not into these goalie controversies. If you’re playing good, you’re playing good,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Right now Brent is really playing well and he’s in a position he hasn’t been in for quite a few years. So I hope he’s relishing it.”
The only shot that got past Johnson was a power-play goal by Aaron Voros with 13:33 remaining. That cut Washington’s lead to 2-1 and ruined Johnson’s bid for his first shutout since April 1, 2006, at Ottawa.
With 10:35 left, New York captain Chris Drury was awarded a penalty shot. But as Drury was about to take a backhander, Johnson poked the puck away.
“I just came out and challenged him as much as I could,” Johnson said. “He was close enough that when he tried to go to the backhand, I was able to get my stick on it.”
Alexander Semin scored into an empty net with 5.5 seconds left to clinch it.
The Rangers rank first in the Eastern Conference with 23 points, but they couldn’t overcome a Capitals team without centre Sergei Fedorov, defenceman Shaone Morrisonn and captain Chris Clark. Morrisonn strained his groin in Washington’s previous game, and Fedorov and Clark were scratched with undisclosed injuries.
New York fell behind 2-0 in the first period and never quite recovered.
“We have speed. We have an ability to play physical. We need to be proactive and believe in what we’re doing all the time and we’ll have success,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “We got some tough calls. Your tendency is then to play a little safer, and that’s not the way to play this game.”
Laich and Tom Poti had first-period goals for the Capitals, 11-0-1 on home ice dating to last season. Washington (5-0-1) is one of four NHL teams without a home loss in regulation this season.
“We want to create an identity that it’s difficult to play against the Capitals in our building,” Boudreau said.
Alex Ovechkin got an assist, but now has gone a career-high nine straight games without a goal.
Washington avoided the penalty box and outshot New York 13-6 in the first period.
The Capitals opened the scoring with a wacky power-play goal. Semin took a shot from the right circle that bounced off goalie Henrik Lundqvist, hit the back glass and came back toward the net. The puck then ricocheted off the crossbar and struck Lundqvist on the top of the mask before Laich tapped it in midair into the net.
Poti’s first goal of the season made it 2-0 at 17:06. Boyd Gordon skated down the left side toward the net, where his shot was stopped by Lundqvist. But Poti, a former Rangers defenceman, was on the right side to stuff in the rebound.
New York argued that the net was knocked off its moorings during Gordon’s rush, but the protest was denied after a replay review.
Notes: The Capitals recalled D Tyler Sloan from AHL Hershey for the second time. He replaced Morrisonn in the starting lineup. … New York fell to 4-2-1 on the road. … The Capitals have won three straight over New York for the first time since the 2001 season.