WASHINGTON - One of the Capitals' most significant offseason moves was to sign ex-Montreal goalie Jose Theodore to a two-year, $9 million contract. But as often happens in this upside-down league, the spare-change backup can overshadow the big-bucks star.
Last night before 17,697 at the
Brent Johnson, earning $825,000 and scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, has taken over the starting job from the underperforming Theodore, and the former backup recorded one of his top performances against Boston.
Amid a 33-save workload, Johnson made three dazzling stops - a rebound kickout of Chuck Kobasew, a shorthanded stuff of P.J. Axelsson, and an acrobatic stick save on Blake Wheeler's unchallenged bid - to power his club to a 3-1 victory, halting Boston's winning streak at five games.
"If you're Washington, you're going to talk about the unbeliev able saves your goaltender made, and we're going to call it missed opportunities," said coach Claude Julien. "We had some real quality opportunities there to score. I thought we could have made it a different game. But I thought that was the difference right there."
At the other end, Manny Fernandez, a winner in his last seven starts, stopped 23 attempts. In the third period, Fernandez stared down forward Alexandre Giroux and forced him to go wide on a penalty shot.
But while Fernandez was sharp again, he didn't have the game-changing stuff of his counterpart.
In the first period, Johnson made back-to-back gems on Boston's struggling second line. First, Johnson kicked out an off-wing wrister by Patrice Bergeron. Kobasew, who had gained speed through the neutral zone, was in the right position to scoop up his linemate's rebound and put it on goal. But Johnson recovered after stopping Bergeron, shifted to his left and repositioned himself against Kobasew, and got a piece of the right wing's follow-up bid to keep the Bruins off the board.
Later in the first period, after picking off defenseman Tom Poti's pass to Alex Ovechkin, Axelsson sprinted off for a shorthanded breakaway bid. Johnson stood tall and stuffed Axelsson's forehand attempt.
Johnson's best save, however, came in the second period. With the Capitals up, 2-0, Johnson saw Wheeler bust through the defense for a breakaway. Wheeler got Johnson moving with a hard fake to his backhand, then pulled the puck to his forehand for what he thought would be Boston's first goal.
"I was looking down at the puck and had to settle it down," Wheeler said. "I glanced up and saw that he was coming out to pokecheck me. So I figured I'd get the puck around him and just stuff it."
But Johnson, unsuccessful with the pokecheck, dived to his left, jabbed out his stick, and deflected Wheeler's shot with the shaft.
"He made a great save," said Wheeler. "That's all you can say. You tip your hat to him. Maybe if I had pulled it around his stick a little more. Hindsight's 20-20. I did the best I could and tried to bury it. He just made a better play."
The Bruins finally solved Johnson late in the second period when Phil Kessel stripped defenseman Sean Collins to start a two-on-one rush. Kessel fed a cross-ice pass through Poti to Milan Lucic, who canned a top-shelf shot with 34.9 ticks remaining.
But the Bruins couldn't overcome a slow start, when they were hemmed in by the swarming Washington forecheck. The Capitals like to send in one forechecker deep to steer the puck-carrying defenseman toward the wall, then deploy their other players to seal off any outlet passes.
"You get trapped into an area where you have nowhere to go," said Julien.
The Capitals struck first in the opening period while Stephane Yelle was serving a penalty for interference. Ovechkin, after taking a pass at the point from center Viktor Kozlov, saw a seam in Boston's penalty-killing box and let one of his trademark sizzling slappers rip. Winger Nicklas Backstrom poked his stick into the lane at the last minute and tipped Ovechkin's blast past Fernandez at 3:53.
Washington doubled its lead in the second period. The play started when ex-Bruin Michael Nylander, driving down the left wing, slammed on the brakes and curled, opening up some space between himself and Dennis Wideman. Nylander spotted Poti on the other side of the ice and hit the defenseman with a pass. Poti carried the puck low and dished to Kozlov, whose shot was stopped by Fernandez.
But Giroux was positioned correctly at the far post to tap the rebound into the net at 4:52. It was Giroux's first career goal.
Ovechkin ended the night with an empty-netter at 19:08 of the third.
"That's the one negative thing I can pull out of tonight - that we didn't do a very good job of getting traffic in front of the net," said Julien. "We've been pretty good overall so far this year. But it was probably one of the worst nights as far as shots from the point and [Johnson] seeing everything because we didn't get to the front of the net."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.