Sunday, March 8, 2009

Teamwork Redux

One of the themes that has haunted the Capitals over the last few games is the propensity towards individual efforts instead of teamwork. Don Cherry (improperly) chided Oveckin on his goal scoring celebrations (even though Alex's celebrations are anything but individual), and Boudreau has mentioned the lack of teamwork in the team's 0-3 skid.

Teamwork wasn't the problem today against the Penguins. Steckel's beautiful pass to Laich for an early third period breakaway goal, and Ovechkin's first minute of the third period power play goal were perfect demonstrations of team play at work.

But what can be done when the one player letting the team down is the goaltender?

Unfortunately, that's what today's game against the Penguins came down to -- Fleury vs. Theodore. And Fleury showed why the Penguins are still a force to be reckoned with, whether or not they are flirting with playoff chances.

Alexander Semin continued his turnaround, showing good effort in front of the net, behind the play, forechecking and backchecking. He stayed out of the penalty box again, and put forth a first period goal that tied things at one. His effort was at least 100%. This is a far cry from the Semin who came back from the pinched nerve, and was tentative around checkers. While the current Semin is still prone towards looking for the "pretty" goal over just "a goal," he is grinding more and being less of a puck hog.

No, the problem comes at the opposite end of the ice. Jose Theodore may be a one-time Hart Trophy winner. He may have helped the Canadiens and the Avalanche in the playoffs. However, right now, he's showing weakness that isn't going to help the Capitals get past the first round.

Theodore has said in the past that he needs to feel tested during a game in order to be at his best. But good defensemen don't let their goaltenders get shelled either. Why should they? If the shots on goal are minimized, then the goal scoring chances are minimized, and if the team's offensive unit is producing (as today's was), the game should be won on defensive effort (including goaltending) alone. Theodore has proven time and again that the fewer shots he faces, the worse he does. It goes against all rational thought, but the proof is there in the pudding.

Today's effort? 1-7 in the first (that's a .857 SV%), 2-5 in the second (.600 SV%), and 0-8 in the third and 0-2 in OT, for a game total of 3/22 (.863 SV%). Anything below .900 is abysmal for an NHL caliber goaltender, and Theodore came into this game with a .900 SV%. Fleury, on the other hand, saw 50% more shots (32 total) and finished with a game SV% of .906.

If this was the first time Theodore had fallen down in the face of less than 30 SOG, it wouldn't be of concern. However, it's an ongoing problem. If the defense does their job, and limits the opposition's chances on net, Theodore routinely erases their efforts.

Yet, against the Bruins just over a week ago, Theodore had 34 saves in 37 shots (.919). It makes no sense.

The Capitals deserve a better effort from someone who allegedly wanted to play for them, and who needs to be able to carry this team past the first round of the playoffs. The defense can't be expected to lay down and just let players like Malkin and Crosby walk in and hope they don't deke in a goal. Poti didn't go out there with a touchy groin issue only to let Theodore let his efforts be all for naught.

Either Theodore needs to start being ready to play all the time, whether he's seeing 10 shots or 40 shots per game, or he needs to sit down and let Varlamov and Neuvirth take over now. Period.

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