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Theodore stars as Caps keep rolling

by Brian Hunter /
Two teams heading in opposite directions met at Verizon Center on Friday night. Jose Theodore made sure the Washington Capitals kept rolling and the New Jersey Devils' goal-scoring struggles continued.

Theodore stopped 32 shots in his first start since Nov. 1 and the Capitals received a goal and an assist each from Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin as they beat the Devils 3-1 for their fifth straight win. The Southeast Division leaders also avenged a shootout loss to New Jersey earlier this season, which remains their only defeat on home ice.

"It's been four or five games in a row now that we’ve allowed just one or two goals," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If we can keep that up, I think our team is going to score some goals over the course of the year, so I think the solid defense is a much better indication of success than the goals scored."

Brent Johnson had made four consecutive starts for the Capitals, but Theodore relieved him after the first period of a 5-1 win against Carolina on Wednesday after Johnson hurt his hip.

Theodore got the nod against the Devils and turned aside 13 shots in each of the first two periods, including a great stop with the paddle of his stick on a Zach Parise shot along the ice that was about to cross the goal line. After the Devils made it a 2-1 game in the third on a goal by Patrik Elias, Theodore held the fort until Ovechkin put the puck into an empty net with 21 seconds remaining.

"I think the last game, playing two periods got the rust out of my legs," Theodore said. "All day after practice I felt good and I knew I'd be ready for tonight's game."

Alexander Semin, who leads the NHL in scoring with 27 points, didn't play in the third period after suffering an undisclosed injury, about the only negative for Washington on this night.

"He'll be fine tomorrow, as far as I know," Boudreau said.

Elias had the lone goal for the Devils, losers of four straight and five out of six since Martin Brodeur went down. But the problem during that stretch has had much more to do with a lack of offense than the goaltending — New Jersey has only five goals during its current skid and wasted a sound effort by Scott Clemmensen, who made 24 saves.

"We've got to clean some things up, but our overall game we're fairly happy with," said Brian Gionta, who assisted on Elias' goal. "We've got to be a little more opportunistic when we have those opportunities to score — we have to take advantage of those. But the effort's there, guys want to win, guys are working hard to get the wins, so it's just a matter of being a little bit smarter."

The Devils outshot the Capitals in each of the first two periods, but in both instances Washington came up with the only goal. Laich converted on the only power play the Capitals would receive, deflecting Ovechkin's drive past Clemmensen at 9:52 of the first period. Tomas Fleischmann made it 2-0 with 1:29 left in the second, taking a Viktor Kozlov feed in the left circle and scoring his fifth of the season. Defenseman Mike Green assisted on both goals.

Elias scored on a breakaway at 11:55 of the third after the Devils caught the Capitals on a bad line change. Gionta hit Elias with a long lead pass behind the defense, and Elias faked Theodore before beating him between the pads for his fifth goal.

The Devils came up empty on a pair of power-play chances, leaving them 2-for-25 over their past seven games. They generated some offense both up a man and at even strength, but had difficulties all night solving Theodore.

"You see as well as I do — look at the quality scoring chances we get, and we don't capitalize on them," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "Their goalie made some pretty good saves, though, too. It's not like he didn't play well tonight. I mean, he was very good tonight, as was ours."

Clemmensen might have been good enough to earn another start Saturday when the teams complete a home-and-home at the Prudential Center. He's played in three straight games, starting in a 2-1 loss to Edmonton on Sunday and relieving Kevin Weekes for the third period of a 5-2 loss Wednesday against the New York Rangers.
"I'm happy with the way I played," Clemmensen said. "I'm not going to let it get me down because tomorrow's a new day and that's what this League is all about — coming to play every day, night in and night out. The good part about it is you get another kick at the can, so to speak."

Meanwhile, Boudreau wasted no time in announcing Theodore had earned a second straight start for the Capitals.

"He's played some pretty good games," Boudreau said. "But he had to make more 10-bell type saves tonight than any other time."

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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