The Washington Capitals are steamrolling towards the Presidents’ Trophy and have emerged as a slim odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Holding them back from being a hands-down, runaway pick? Commonly held perceptions of their goaltending. Depending on who you chat with, those opinions range from unpredictable to uninspired.
While it’s true Jose Theodore, who looks to have the edge in being the starter heading into the playoffs, has something to prove, he has a few things going for him:
1. He has been good this season and brilliant of late. In the past couple months, the 2002 Hart and Vezina Trophies winner has gone 17-0-2 since Jan. 13 with a save percentage better than .940.
2. Most of the other elite contenders also have goaltending “questions.” Check out the stats and you’ll see Theodore is having as good or a better year than the guys in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Vancouver.
But perhaps more importantly, recent Stanley Cup history tells us it’s not a must to have a superstar between the pipes entering the spring. Take the past five champions:
2004: Tampa Bay, Nikolai Khabibulin. He ranked 27th in save percentage entering the playoffs and had just one post-season series victory to his credit going in.
2006: Carolina, Cam Ward. The youngster was splitting time with Martin Gerber before finally getting on a roll and capturing Conn Smythe honors. He entered the playoffs with an .882 SP, good for 45th overall.
2007: Anaheim, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. ‘Giggy’ had a stellar regular campaign and post-season for the Ducks and may be the exception to this list. Still, he didn’t win the Vezina or finish runner-up and teammate Scott Niedermayer was named playoff MVP in the Ducks run.
2008: Detroit, Chris Osgood. Some people think he’s a Hall of Famer. Others think he has been very lucky. In 2008, he was probably somewhere in between, providing the important stops when the Wings needed him. Entering the playoffs, he was a respectable 16th in NHL save percentage.
2009: Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury. No doubt he shone last spring, but his regular season was no better than the one Theodore is cobbling this time around. And Fleury didn’t win the Cup alone; he had a fantastic cast in front of him doing some heavy lifting.
Theodore has proven, in stretches, he is capable of playing lights out. In fact, some believe the work goalie coach Arturs Irbe has done with him this season has brought his game to a new, consistent level.
And if Washington’s high-octane offense and puck control style can continue performing as it has all season and shield Theodore from having to carry the load, consistency is all the Caps will need.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays.
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