Sunday, June 14, 2009

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Goaltenders: Jose Theodore

Jose Theodore

Theme: “WYSIWYG”

You don’t often see that acronym anymore, as it is an archaic term dating from the MS-DOS days of computing. But the acronym – “what you see is what you get” – and the vintage of the term seems to fit the subject.

Theodore’s win-loss numbers don’t differ much from those we projected last fall. But where we thought he’d be more of the reason for those wins, he ended up being a guy who benefitted from an offense that could score enough to mask mistakes made by defensemen and goaltenders. And as the ten-game segments suggest, a quality he displayed in previous seasons did not emerge this time around…

In 2007-2008, Theodore started slowly – 7-8-1 in the 2007 portion of the season – before closing with a 21-13-2 record in the new year portion. This year, a slow start could be forgiven as the product of backstopping a new team with high aspirations, as long as a fast finish was in store.

Theodore had that slow start – 4-3-0, 3.44, .877 covering seven appearances in his first ten-game segment, including a disaster of an opening night when he was shelled for four goals on 17 shots in less than 30 minutes. On two other occasions in that segment he allowed five goals. While he fought back from that debacle, his first three ten-game segments (covering through December 12th) was a somewhat lackluster 8-6-1, 3.08, .888, and he had been effectively benched in favor of Brent Johnson in early November (tht run ended when Johnson was injured).

Theodore climbed out of that hole to post five straight segments in which he posted a save percentage over .900 – he finally topped a season mark of .900 for good on March 10, in Game 68 of the year. But it was only in the fifth segment, covering games from January 6 through January 31st, that it could be said that Theodore was the goalie folks were expecting – he was only 5-3-1, but he posted his lowest segment GAA (2.31) and highest save percentage (.916).

After that fifth segment, Theodore didn’t really ramp up his game, and in fact he finished in rather mediocre fashion. After that fifth ten-game segment, he was 14-8-3, 2.97, .901, and ominously enough ran through the last 22 games 9-6-2 in 17 appearances, 3.04, .899. That wasn’t a hot goaltender going into the playoffs.

But here is the odd part – in 23 games against the other seven teams in the East that made the playoffs, Theodore was 14-3-4, 2.61, .912. Generally, he was fine against Eastern Conference teams, going 26-10-5, 2.78, .904. He struggled against the West (6-7-0, 3.14, .889) and was poor against poor teams (4.93, .808 in four games against Atlanta; 3.20, .887 in six games against Florida, 3.00, .894 in three games against Buffalo being the biggest examples).

31 goaltenders played in at least half (41) of their team’s games. Of that group, Theodore finished 27th in overall save percentage and 25th in goals against average. Only one goaltender finishing below Theodore in both overall save percentage and goals against average played on a playoff team (Chris Osgood… go figure).

Then there were the playoffs. Theodore started them, and he finished them. He did neither well. His indifferent performance in Game 1 of the opening round series against the Rangers – four goals on 21 shots in a 4-3 loss – earned him the baseball cap in favor of Semyon Varlamov (a rookie with all of six games of NHL experience) until the rookie finally melted down in Game 7 of the second round against the Penguins. Theodore came in for 22 minutes of mop-up time to close a year that didn’t end the way anyone might have wanted.

And that playoff line – 0-1-0, 3.71, .818 – continues a disturbing trend as the team moves forward. In each of his last three seasons in which he appeared in both the regular season and playoffs he has posted worse playoff save percentage numbers than he had in the regular season, and he’s had a worse GAA in the last two playoffs than in his regular season.

The concern at the start of the season was whether Theodore could be consistently good enough to backstop a championship contender. That really wasn’t the problem. He had a few decent stretches over the course of the season, but all in all, he just wasn’t an especially productive goaltender. He was one led by the offense to a 30-plus win season more than he carried the team there. A lot of that might be the still-green nature of the defense in front of him and the style the Capitals prefer to play, a hell-bent-for-leather pressure game that will leave goalies exposed from time to time. That has to figure in any evaluation of the position. But the Caps’ style is what it is, and the question now is whether Jose Theodore is the right goaltender to play behind such a team. That he wasn’t in this year’s playoffs is telling.

Grade: C-

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