- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2008

Don’t look now, but the Washington Capitals suddenly have two goaltenders producing stellar performances.

Jose Theodore made 32 saves in his second straight strong outing, and the Caps converted enough of their many great chances to defeat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 on Friday night at Verizon Center.

“I think [the Devils] are as hardworking a team as we face all year long,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Today was a real hard-fought battle, and I thought our goaltender made some great saves to preserve the win. … He had to make more 10-bell-type saves tonight than any other time.”

It was the fifth straight win for the Southeast Division-leading Caps, who are undefeated in regulation at home this season (7-0-1).

Theodore made several big saves, but none was bigger than his stop on Zach Parise early in the second period. Brian Gionta walked the puck out from the behind the net and sent a cross-crease pass to Parise, but Theodore reached back and thwarted the one-timer with his stick.

“When I saw that, I said to myself, ‘Oh no, there’s a goal,’” Theodore said. “When you are seeing the puck well and are in the zone, you have those last-second reactions.”

After signing a two-year, $9 million contract this offseason, Theodore’s performance in his first seven appearances was well below expectations. He was outside the top 30 in save percentage and goals-against average, but Theodore stopped all 13 shots he faced Wednesday against Carolina in relief of an injured Brent Johnson - who was 4-0-1 in five straight starts - and the first 31 he faced Friday.

“I think because I didn’t play for a couple of games, it got out of proportion,” Theodore said. “When we were on the West Coast, we lost two games 2-1, and I felt really good. I didn’t feel like this game was better than the other ones; it was just sometimes I was inconsistent.”

The win came with a price, though: The NHL’s leading scorer, Alexander Semin, did not play in the third period and is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Semin leads the league with 13 goals, 27 points and a plus-17 rating.

“[Semin] will be fine [Saturday] as far as I know,” Boudreau said.

Brooks Laich gave the Caps a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on the power play. Alex Ovechkin took a pass at the left point and put a wrist shot on net that Laich got a piece of for his fourth of the season at 9:52. The goal was originally credited to Ovechkin.

“I’d like to score a goal sometime when I actually get rewarded for it [by the public-address announcer] at the time,” Laich joked.

The Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, but their margin could have been larger. Defenseman Tom Poti hit the left post with an open net early in the period, and Ovechkin just missed on a great setup from Nicklas Backstrom in the waning seconds.

That trend continued in the second period, but Tomas Fleischmann made it a two-goal advantage just before the second intermission. Viktor Kozlov carried the puck behind the net and to the right of goalie Scott Clemmensen, then slipped a pass to Fleischmann inside the left faceoff circle for a one-timer that gave him his fifth goal of the season at 18:31.

“Every time you get the golden opportunities and don’t put them in, you worry they will come back to bite you,” Boudreau said. “I was very concerned about getting that second goal. I didn’t want to keep it 1-0 because they were coming too close.”

New Jersey’s Patrik Elias cut the lead in half with 8:05 left in the third period. When defenseman John Erskine went to the bench for a change, Gionta sprang Elias on a breakaway. He put the puck through Theodore’s legs for his fifth goal.

Ovechkin stretched his goal-scoring streak to three games with an empty-net tally with 21 seconds left.

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