Can you give all three stars to one guy?
Well, even if you can’t, no star in this game shined more brightly than Jose Theodore, who almost single-handedly pilfered a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings tonight that the Caps, frankly, had no business winning.
For you Caps fans unfamiliar with the practice, that’s called “a goaltender stealing a game.”
Theodore stopped 44 of 46 shots – too many of them quality chances – and gave the Caps a chance to win late, which they did when David Steckel scored the game-winning goal with 5:59 to play.
Caps fans might be forgiven if they looked upon what unfolded in the first period and thought, “we’re gonna get beat so bad…” Why?
-- The Red Wings outshot the Caps 13-0 in the first 14:26.
-- The Red Wings out-attempted the Caps 22-7 in that first 14:26.
-- If there was a time-of-possession clock in that first 14:26, the Caps might not have registered a digit in the “minutes” column.
It bordered on embarrassing. More ominously, it conjured images of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, when the Caps spent minutes at a time chasing the Pittsburgh Penguins around in their own zone.
But Theodore did what a goaltender sometimes has to do – he held the fort while the Caps were busy trying to find their legs. Trouble is, it took the Caps most of the game… well, no, they never really did find their legs, not when the other guys get 46 shots on goal in 60 minutes and out-attempt you for the game by an 83-54 margin. The Red Wings had more of their shots blocked (25) than the Caps had on goal (23).
The Caps could thank two things (other than Theodore) for this win. First, the Wings lack finishers. That’s an odd thing to say about a team with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and a host of other names any casual fan would recognize. But the Wings missed at least a half-dozen chances to stick a fork in the Caps. As brilliant as Theodore was, there are going to be openings when 83 shots are launched on goal, and the Wings missed just about every one of those opportunities to swat in a rebound or bury a loose puck.
Second, Chris Osgood was at the other end. This being a regular season game, Osgood might not be expected to be sharp (he seems now a playoff goalie only, which is probably fine if you’re the Red Wings), and his being out of action except for a few scant minutes since December 20th didn’t help him find his edge. Still, Osgood was not sharp, except the Caps weren’t testing him nearly enough. The first goal – scored on a fine drive to the net by Matt Bradley when Jonathan Ericsson was woefully late to pick up what Bradley was doing, was not Osgood’s problem. But the second goal, scored when Nicklas Backstrom stepped around Brad Stuart as if he was a pylon and snapped it in, should have been stopped (Osgood looked as if he was late anticipating the shot and never got set to defend it as the puck was sliding through his pads). The third goal was scored when Osgood couldn’t react fast enough to a puck that changed direction enough to find David Steckel’s stick, and the soft backhand Steckel chipped toward the goal beat Osgood past his blocker.
-- Alex Ovechkin: no shots on goal. Call CNN! Not only was that the first time that happened this year, it is the first time it happened since October 8, 2007, when Ovechkin had no shots on goal in a 2-1 win over the Islanders.
-- If a Gordie Howe Hat Trick is a goal, and assist, and a fight, then what do you call a 44 saves, an assist, and a hard hat? Whatever you want to call it, Jose Theodore earned it.
-- On that Bradley goal, nice recognition by Mike Green at his own blue line to find the Red Wings on a line change. His long diagonal pass to Boyd Gordon at the other blue line got the play started.
-- We hate to say it, but Tyler Sloan looked badly overmatched tonight. We were scratching our head as to why he was out there against the Datsyuk-Zetterberg duo.
-- Of course, a lot of Caps looked badly overmatched at times. There were stark differences on display between the clubs, especially in terms of how they handled the puck in their own end. It seemed as if every single Red Wing pass had a purpose. Every puck was put on a teammate’s tape. The Caps? Uh, not so much. The result was that the Wings moved the puck out of their end smartly, and the Caps left loose pucks lying around that the Red Wings could gobble up to maintain possession in the Caps’ end.
-- Top line: six shots. Second line: five. Third line: three shots. Fourth line: four shots. Defense: five shots. Hard to generate offense out of that.
-- The Caps had four power plays and 6:35 of ice time with the man advantage. Total shots on goal: one (Nicklas Backstrom’s goal).
-- The Caps have 31 wins this year; this was only the fifth in regulation when they scored three or fewer goals.
-- It is probably worth noting that Brendan Morrison registered only five seconds more of ice time (11:56) than did Matt Bradley (11:51). It was his second shortest tour of the sheet this year.
-- It’s sort of difficult to generate offense off set plays when: a) you get only 12 offensive zone draws, and b) you lose eight of them.
-- Every Red Wing skater except Jonathan Ericsson registered at least one shot on goal.
-- Valteri Filppula had more shots blocked (five) than any Cap had on goal (Backstrom: four).
-- Darren Helm really does have a knack for putting defenders back on their heels. The guy can flat out fly. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski shined in the defensive end, but Helm was the best player for the Wings at the other end of the ice. Unfortunately, though, that is not generally something that Wings fans are going to want to see – not with Datsyuk and Zetterberg both skating more than 20 minutes.
Let’s face it, the Caps were the second-best team on the ice tonight. But teams that have big aspirations are going to find themselves in that situation from time to time. The trick is to find a way. Tonight, the Caps cobbled together a win from great goaltending and a couple of opportunistic plays that took advantage of a goalie at the other end who wasn’t as sharp as their own. In terms of teams with an ability to finish, though, the Caps step up in weight class on Thursday against the Penguins, who got a six-point night out of Sidney Crosby this evening as a warm up for the clubs’ first meeting.
The fun week continues.