Heading into the 2009-10 NHL season and the final campaign of a two-year deal he signed with Washington on July 1, 2008, Caps goaltender Jose Theodore had a heavy heart and something to prove. The offseason death of his infant son, Chace, was deeply weighing on the veteran goaltender. And he also felt he had something to prove, having been pulled from the net after losing Game 1 of the Caps’ 2008-09 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series with the New York Rangers.
Theodore won 32 games for the Capitals in 2008-09, but lost his starting job to Semyon Varlamov after the team’s 4-3 loss in Game 1.
“Redemption?” asked Theodore last September, as the Caps opened their 2009-10 training camp. “I think that’s a big word. During the [2008-09] season I played a lot of games. We had a good record. I was happy the way the season went. And then in the playoffs I had one game and I didn’t play anymore. So redemption out of one game, it’s hard to say. Like I always say, you play to play in the playoffs and last year it didn’t happen so obviously that’s something I am going to keep in the back of my mind. I am going to have to prove to everybody that I am ready right off the bat."
Theodore got off to a strong start in 2009-10 before faltering a bit in November and December. At one point, he took a couple days to get away from the game and collect his thoughts. Shortly after the calendar turned to 2010, Theodore went on one of the hottest goaltending sprees the league has seen in quite some time.
Since losing a 7-4 decision to the Lightning in a Jan. 12 relief effort in Tampa Bay, Theodore still has not dropped a regulation decision. He finished the season on an incredible 20-0-3 run, posting a 2.58 GAA and a .922 save pct. in the process. Theodore tied a franchise record with 10 straight victories and his 23 decisions without a regulation loss are the most in franchise history.
Theodore reached the 30-win plateau for the fourth time in his NHL career and became the first Caps goalie with back-to-back 30-win campaigns since Olie Kolzig in 2001-02 and 2002-03. He posted a .761 winning pct., the highest single-season mark in franchise history. His seven regulation losses were the fewest for any NHL goaltender with 45 or more stats in a season since Detroit’s Chris Osgood was tagged with a mere six losses back in 1995-96.
“This year, I took a lot of pride in making sure I was consistent,” says Theodore. “If you look at the season – except for that one month around November to mid-December that I didn’t play well – I was pretty consistent. I wanted to make sure that last stretch that I was really playing the way I can. I think that’s what I did. You guys saw the games.”
As well as Theodore played, his reign as the team’s top goaltender did not last long in the postseason. Although he arguably outplayed Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak in Game 1 of the first-round series between the Caps and the Habs, Theodore wound up on the short end of a 3-2 overtime decision when Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec finished off the game in overtime.
After surrendering two goals on as many shots at the start of Game 2, Theodore was pulled and did not see the nets again. Although he has never lost a first-round playoff series, Theodore didn’t get a chance to win this one for Washington, and he ended the season having allowed a goal on each of the last three shots he faced.
“I was looking forward to a long playoff run,” says Theodore. “Getting pulled in that second game and not coming back was obviously really tough and frustrating. But I was really confident that sooner or later I would be back in the net and I wanted to keep going. Now realizing that we didn’t win that Game 7 it’s tough because you’re done and you can’t do anything about it. Sometimes it’s really about what you can control and I really feel that I couldn’t control much more that was going on.”
During Washington’s all-too-brief postseason run, Theodore was named one of three finalists for the Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.
Theodore, who turns 34 in September, will be an unrestricted free agent as of July 1. Having fashioned an impressive 62-24-12 record during his two seasons in the District, Theodore has certainly earned another multi-year contract here or somewhere else in the NHL.
“As a player you always want to make sure you did everything you can,” says Theodore, when asked about the possibility of returning to Washington for 2010-11. “This year, I thought I did everything I could to show them what I am capable of, especially the last 25 games. But the direction they’re going to take, we’ll see.”