Second Impressions Positive for Price and Theodore


Written on 10/02/2009 by Jim Cerny

Among the many story lines and subplots to Opening Night in the National Hockey League on Thursday, one of the more intriguing ones to me was how a pair of embattled goaltenders---Carey Price (above photo) of Montreal and Jose Theodore of Washington---would fair in their first chance at making a second impression.

Let's just say both Price and Theodore passed their respective first tests of the season with flying colors.

Price, the 22 year-old who battled on and off ice woes in Montreal a year ago, was stellar in turning aside 43 of 46 shots in last night's 4-3 overtime victory against arch-rival Toronto. Most impressive to me was how Price controlled his rebounds so well. He didn't force himself into making tremendous acrobatic saves. Instead he positioned himself well and seemed to swallow up shot after shot as a result.

Of the three goals he did allow, two were scored by Matt Stajan on the power play---with one of those a perfect redirection in front---and the other by Alex Ponikorovsky resulted directly off a Hal Gill giveaway behind the Canadiens' net.

It was clearly a solid first outing for Price, whose only misstep was accidentally getting tangled with teammate Andrei Markov in the crease leading to Markov's departure from the game in the third period due to a bad cut caused by Price's skate blade. Sportsnet in Canada is reporting that Markov will miss 2-3 months of action after undergoing surgery to repair tendon damage in his leg this morning.

That is a big blow to the Canadiens, as well as to Price, himself, who loses his top defenseman for a bulk of this important season.

Just consider it another obstacle for Price to overcome. Last year Price fell from grace, with his goals against rising, his save percentage falling, and his off-ice social habits called into question by the Montreal media, and subsequently, by the Canadiens' fans.

For a kid just 21 years-old at the time, it must have been a dizzying turn of events for Price. He had gone from being a national hero---after his superlative 1.14 goals against helped lead Canada to the 2007 World Junior Championship gold medal---to the heir apparent as next great Canadiens goalie following his terrific run in the 2007 AHL playoffs for Hamilton and his impressive rookie campaign in Montreal in '07-'08 that featured 24 wins, a 2.56 goals against, and a sterling .920 save percentage.

And Price had accomplished all of this prior to his 21st birthday. Pretty heady stuff to say the least.

That he took a step back last season should not have been a tremendous cause for concern, especially playing for a team that collectively had fallen backwards, as well. But Price was attacked from all angles, and clearly that affected his play.

Of course, Price did bring much of this on himself---most notably being photographed out at all hours many nights a week at various Montreal nightspots.

The question heading into this season is how will Price, still a kid at age 22, though already in his third NHL season as the No. 1 backstop in Montreal, will accept the responsibility that goes with being a star for the Canadiens, and learn from the mistakes he made a year ago.

There is a long way to go in the 2009-10 season, but Price made a very strong case for himself last night.

Of course if Price ever needed counseling on how to handle the pressures of a roller-coaster tenure in Montreal, he could turn to the 33 year-old Theodore, who arrived on the Montreal scene in 1996 as a hot-shot star goalie with model good-looks just like Price. After finding his footing by the start of the new millenium, Theodore won both the Vezina and Hart Trophies in 2002. Within four years, his numbers and confidence decling by the season, Theodore was shipped to Colorado.

Theodore arived in Washington last season looking to reestablish himself as a No. 1 goalie after a fairly strong 2007-08 campaign salvaged his rough two-and-a-half-year tenure out west. He went out and won 30 games, but critics---and rightfully so---pointed to his talented team as the reason why his win total was so high, considering his middling 2.87 and .900 statistics.

With a chance to redeem himself in the playoffs, Theodore instead crashed. After playing poorly in Game One of the first round against the Rangers, Theodore was replaced as the starter by rookie Semyon Varlamov, who came thisclose to leading the Caps into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hockey pundits opined in the off-season that Varlamov would be the starter this season for a Capitals team intent on making a run to the Cup Finals. Head coach Bruce Boudreau instead talked up Theodore as the club's No. 1, and followed through by starting him on opening night. Theodore responded with a sharp performance, stopping 19 of 20 shots in a 4-1 road win in Boston.The veteran butterfly netminder was especially good in the first several minutes of the match when the Bruins swarmed the Caps and created their best scoring chances.

Of course, nothing is easy in this game. And as such, Boudreau will start Varlamov in the team's home opener on Saturday against the Maple Leafs.

Though he likely will be battling Varlamov for playing time throughout the season, trying to hold off the youngster's push for the No. 1 spot, at least Theodore---like Price---was able to make a strong second impression on opening night.

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