WASHINGTON - Even as the Washington Capitals contemplate a possible goalie change, the New York Rangers have already pulled off the first significant personnel switch in the teams' first-round Eastern Conference series.
The Rangers gave the Capitals an unexpectedly heavy dose of Reds and Rozy in Wednesday night's 4-3 Game 1 victory. Veterans Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival each played nearly half the game, logging season-highs in minutes and displacing nervous youngsters Dan Girardi and Marc Staal as the top defensive pairing against Alex Ovechkin and Co.
"Marc and Danny, I thought, fought it for a little bit out there," coach John Tortorella said after Thursday's optional practice. "It's to be expected as you open up the series, but Reds and Rozy really stabilized us when they were coming at us pretty hard."
The Rangers were on their heels early. Girardi took a penalty 18 seconds into the game, and the Capitals outshot New York 14-4 in a scoreless first period. Girardi and Staal were also on the ice when Viktor Kozlov scored Washington's only even-strength goal late in the second.
"We can't allow Kozlov to go though our (defence) and tap that one in," Tortorella said.
So it was Redden and Rozsival who were getting the key shifts as the game went on, and Tortorella said he'll "start it that way" in Saturday's Game 2 - while stressing he hasn't lost confidence in the younger pairing.
"Girardi and Marc Staal are the foundation of our back end there as we move forward in the New York Rangers organization," Tortorella said. "This is how you gain experience."
Staal entered the series as the player expected to shadow Ovechkin all over the ice. Instead, he logged only 18 minutes 37 seconds, his most limited ice time since Jan. 18. He graded himself as a mere "OK."
"There are a couple of mistakes I'd like to have back, obviously," Staal said. "But they're a team that is going to create offensive chances.
"You've got to look past it and keep working."
The Capitals also had an optional practice, and coach Bruce Boudreau did his cagey best to avoid saying whether he plans to bench Jose Theodore for rookie Simeon Varlamov in Game 2. Theodore, the former league MVP whose up-and-down season made him the biggest question mark for Washington entering the series, allowed four goals on only 21 shots.
"You guys are asking," Boudreau said, "and I'm not divulging anything."
When Theodore was asked, he seemed surprised the subject was even up for discussion.
"It's the first game, I don't know what you're really referring to when it's 1-0 in the series," Theodore said. "I've been down 3-1 in the series, and we came back and won.
"I think you're jumping the gun a little bit when your team's down 1-0. The story changes so quickly. You're down one game, then they say the goalie is shaky, he got outplayed, which was the case. ... We might see you Sunday and it will be a totally different story."
Theodore said there's nothing he would change about the second and third goals - "pretty good shots," he said - but he conceded he might have misplayed the angles a bit on Scott Gomez's second-period goal and Brandon Dubinsky's game-winner with 8:17 to play.
Theodore nearly lost the starting job to Brent Johnson in December but rebounded to play well for much of the second half of the season. With Johnson injured, the backup is Varlamov, who turns 21 this month and has played in only six NHL games - albeit with a 4-0-1 record.
"He has played in the Russian Elite League and he's played in the world championship in front of big crowds," Boudreau said, "so it's not like he's going to be a star-struck young guy - if we went with that decision."
Notes: Centre Chris Drury, who sat out Game 1 with an undisclosed injury, took part in the Rangers' optional skate. "I was wanted to test it out and see what it can take," he said. ... With two days between games, Tortorella urged his players to get away from the rink as much as possible Thursday. "I don't want to overload them and have them thinking too much," the coach said. ... Boudreau expressed his displeasure over the Capitals' two delay of game penalties, incurred for putting the puck over the glass. "That's a bad penalty," Boudreau said. "The rule itself, I understand the rule. The rule was in place all the time for 30 years, but it was never called. It's up to the referee. Players don't try to do that on purpose. That's an accident."