There is an interesting story developing in Washington early this season.
Long time backup goalie Brent Johnson is clearly outplaying expensive off-season free agent signing and designated starter Jose Theodore. Johnson's 2.11 GAA and .931 save percentage are significantly better than Theodore's 3.44 and .877.
Coach Bruce Boudreau has handled this situation with necessary caution. Though Johnson has earned the starting job, Boudreau is splitting net duties almost equally, hoping that Theodore can get his game back.
Washington Goalie Jinx?
Could goaltending issues haunt the Washington franchise again? The team had been solid in that position over the past decade or more with Olaf Kolzig in net.
But before that I remember the Capitals being a real strong team in the 1980s under David Poile's watch. Despite a deep blue line and some solid forwards, the team never got anywhere because the goaltending did not hold up. Solid but never great described so many goalies, like Al Jensen, Pat Riggin, Bob Mason and Don Beaupre. Pete Peeters looked spectacular for a while, but he was a lot like Theodore nowadays, really up or really down. And let's just forget about Dave Parro.
The 1990s were similar until Kolzig blossomed. Thank god he did, because the Capitals would have been in a whole heap of trouble with a goaltending stable consisting of Jim Carey, Rick Tabaracci, Jim Hrivnak, and Byron Dafoe.
Time To Capitalize
Kolzig's time is over, and someone needs to step up and become the new go-to guy in Washington's crease. The Caps wanted that man to be Jose Theodore, curiously passing over Cristobal Huet who filled in late in 2007-08.
So far Theodore has faltered. At some point coach Boudreau has to make a decision. If Brent Johnson can keep his level of play high, that decision will have to be made sooner rather than later, and it could be an easy one.
Perhaps Boudreau is already leaning this way. In a symbolic matchup with Kolzig returning to Washington for the first time, it was Johnson in the crease, not Theodore.
Can Johnson capitalize on this opportunity? He's been relegated to back up duty since 2003. Prior to that he looked like a promising young goalie with the St. Louis Blues, but perhaps he was rushed too early with a team heading into decline. A Tom Barrasso-like goalie, Johnson has matured from those days when he over-challenged shooters and over-handled pucks.
All of this has to make Johnson's family proud. His father Bob, also a goalie, played 64 games in the NHL/WHA in the 1970s. And his grandfather is none other than Hockey Hall of Famer Sid Abel.
*Note - Johnson left Wednesday game with a lower body injury.