- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

Jose Theodore stood in front of reporters Wednesday night, proudly adorning the red hard hat his teammates pass around after each victory.

“How do you like my new hat?” he said with a broad smile.

There hasn’t been much for Theodore to smile about lately. After he signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Washington Capitals this offseason, he did not have the start to the 2008-09 campaign he was hoping for.

When the Caps were routed 5-0 in Buffalo on Nov. 1, coach Bruce Boudreau decided to give backup Brent Johnson a start - which turned into two and eventually into five. Nearly two full weeks went by without Theodore seeing time in front of the net he was signed to protect.

“When a team is winning, it makes it easier, and [Johnson] is playing so well,” Theodore said. “The Buffalo game was a tough game for everybody and for myself. Before that the team had a small two-game winning streak, so I think the team is really building something good. As a goalie, when you see somebody get on, you have to go with the hot hand. [Johnson] was playing really well.”

Then Johnson tweaked his hip midway through the first period Wednesday night, and Theodore could see from his seat near the tunnel to the Washington dressing room that his partner was laboring as the period wore on.

When Johnson said he couldn’t continue, Theodore had his chance and made the most of it - stopping all 13 shots he faced, including a two-man breakaway in the second period to preserve the two-goal advantage.

“We’d never forget about him - I don’t think anybody would think that way - but he just deserved [the hard hat Wednesday] night,” captain Chris Clark said. “Coming off the bench as a goaltender has to be one of the hardest things to do in hockey, especially when you don’t really warm up. I thought he played awesome.”

Johnson did not practice Thursday, but he said he wants to get back on the ice Friday morning before the Caps begin a home-and-home series with the New Jersey Devils. Boudreau said even if Johnson pronounces himself fit to play, Theodore is likely to start Friday.

If Theodore had been injured, Johnson probably could have returned to the game against Carolina rather easily - but his hip was just getting too sore to continue under normal circumstances.

“I never wanted to do that to Jose - I talked to him after - but you never want to hurt the team if you’re not 100 percent,” Johnson said.

Added Theodore: “It is always tough, and I know how he felt. In past years, I’ve tried to play through injuries, and a lot of times at the end of the day you end up hurting your team because you can’t really play the way you want. Looking back with experience, it is always the smart move to finish the period and take a break. I think [Johnson] made the right decision, and we’re all professionals, so we have to be prepared.”

Theodore said he did not spend the time off poring over game film to try and pinpoint what was going wrong. Since being pulled in a season-opening loss to Atlanta, Theodore has had a couple of bad games that have influenced his overall numbers, but he felt a few of the other games point to better performances in the near future.

“I was looking at the previous four or five games I played, and except for one I was pretty consistent,” Theodore said. “I just have to find a way to get in that zone of being consistent in every game and making that key save at the right time. I’ve been working hard, and I’m not that far from being on top of my game.”

Notes - Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn practiced Thursday and is a game-time decision against the Devils, while center Sergei Fedorov did not skate and is not expected to be in the lineup. Alex Ovechkin also did not participate, but it was just a day off. …

The Caps signed first-round pick John Carlson to a three-year, entry-level contract. Carlson was the No. 27 pick in the 2008 draft.

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