Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3:45 PM ET, 5/01/06
Theodore not as good as his stats
Posted by Allan Muir
With yesterday's 3-2 OT win over Dallas, Jose Theodore did exactly what was asked of him. He led his Colorado Avalanche teammates past the second-seeded Dallas Stars and into the next round of the Western Conference playoffs.
A glance at the post-game stats shows that he made 50 stops in the winning effort. That certainly sounds like the work of a difference maker. But let's be blunt, shall we? It was the least impressive 50-save performance in NHL playoff history. And despite the win, and the accolades of his coach and teammates after the game, Theodore's ability remains a major question mark for the Avalanche.
For the duration of the five-game set, Theodore was a soft goal waiting to happen. His positioning was suspect, and his rebound control was a constant source of excitement dulled only by the stone-handed ineptitude of the Stars forwards or, just as often, the stalwart efforts of Colorado's core defenseman -- and just when did Brett Clark become so reliable?
That the Stars recognized Theodore's weakness was evident. Normally a team that infuriates the home crowd with its tendency to over-pass in search of the perfect scoring opportunity, Dallas simply let fly from all over the ice yesterday. Along with the 52 shots, they also missed the net on 16 sorties and had 26 -- 26! -- shots blocked by Colorado skaters. Over the five games, the Avs hurtled in front of 92 Dallas attempts.
And this wasn't just the self-sacrificing, do-anything-to-win type of shot blocking that's so common during the postseason. Theodore's teammates looked as though they recognized how beatable he was and were doing whatever they could to limit his opportunities to cough up another softie like those he handed to Jere Lehtinen and Niklas Hagman in Game Four. That’s why the Stars kept firing. And firing. And firing. Problem was, the vast majority of those shots came from within six feet of the blueline. Several more arrived from near center ice -- on target, to be sure, but hardly the sort of stops that demonstrate that Theodore is up to leading the challenge for the Cup. And most of the attempts that were launched from in close were re-directed by a Colorado stick or leg or torso.
The two goals that Theodore did allow started with excellent individual efforts by Jussi Jokinen and Bill Guerin, respectively, but he also badly misplayed both. He committed far too early on Jokinen's goal, leaving him a gaping cage, and simply blew the angle on Guerin. That's not to say he didn't make a few nice stops over the course of the contest. Theodore was solid in the overtime period, when his team was outshot 11-4, and was at his best during an OT penalty kill. And that's something.
Maybe those few minutes of excellence revealed what Theodore can provide. Maybe he is ready to recapture some of that lost MVP magic. But it's more likely that the guy we saw through the majority of the series, the guy who looked an awful lot like the Jose Theodore who got run out of Montreal on a rail, is the guy who'll be in the Colorado net when next they take the ice.
The Avs are going to the second round, and that's fitting. The 18 guys up front earned it. But if they hope to advance further, Theodore will have to look as good on the ice as he did on that stat sheet.
One of the more pleasing aspects about covering the NHL is the room is full of polite players who are almost always cooperative before and after games. But more than any other sport, these same players are known for clichés when it comes time to get a quote or two. This is especially true during the playoffs when players are as insightful as, well, Lou Lamoriello. Assuming he says anything.
Granted, plenty is said during the postseason derby, but the majority of sound bites echo the obvious, including this from Patrik Elias after his Devils took a 3-0 series lead on the Rangers: "We're in a position we want to be in. We know the fourth win will be the toughest. Hopefully we'll get it."
There was this from Jason Arnott after the Stars went down 0-2 to Colorado: "We have to bounce back as a whole team and get prepared. We need 20 guys in here to play every night."
Now, it would not be fair to expect playoff rookie Chris Mason to say a whole lot. But he said plenty of the obvious following a Game 3 loss to the Sharks: "We've got to play tough hockey. We've got to get in the corners and battle and we've got to get in front of the net." Somebody please remind Mason that he is a goalie. Perhaps Paul Kariya should have replied, "...and we can't allow any bad goals on shots from the blueline."
Of course, this beauty can be attributed to just about every player whose team is on the verge of clinching a series: "We know they are not going to lie down and quit." Now, keep in mind that I would not expect a member of the Avalanche to say something like, "We know the Marty Turco in the playoffs is nothing like the Marty Turco in the regular season." I certainly would have been surprised had a member of the Devils' checking line said something to this effect after Game 2: "We hope Jagr stays out of the lineup because Nylander is afraid to shoot." And certainly no Senator was going to comment, "Tampa Bay is no match for us without Khabibulin around."
No, we can't expect player commentary to be as colorful as the ties worn by the late Roger Neilson. Certainly not during the playoffs.
Last week, the Stanley Cup visited the SI offices here in New York (and before you ask -- no, we did not put a bikini on the Cup so that we can feature it in next year's swimsuit issue). Our hockey fanatics, however, did pay homage to their Holy Grail. Among the staffers getting snapped with the Cup were SI.com producers Gennaro Filice, Andy Gray and Jacob Luft (left to right).
This got us to thinking -- what about all the other hockey fans out there who've had their photo taken with the Cup? If you've got a digital photo and can e-mail it to us as a jpeg, we'll consider it for use in an upcoming Stanley Cup photo gallery. Just send your photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line, you must put this: Stanley Cup Photo.
We can't guarantee we'll use your photo, but we can guarantee we'll consider it.
Oh, and if you're wondering about Luft -- yes, he's from Florida. And sadly, he wonders if his photo will be the closest that a Panthers jersey ever comes to the Cup.
There must be a portrait in Wings owner Mike Ilitch's attic that is looking ancient right now.
It seems to happen so often with the Red Wings: when they get old, they do it overnight. Maybe it was the rest and relaxation of playing the Blues and Blackhawks and Blue Jackets a million times during the season while the Oilers were being forced to claw their way through the nightly wars of the diabolical Northwest Division, but the sleek, puck-possession Wings were an old team that skewed young during the regular season. Now they are an old team that is skewing old.
1) Manny Legace had to play like a No. 1 goalie. Terrific teammate. Good goalie. But Legace, once the star of a gold-medal Canadian world junior team, has been an NHL backup so long that it has suffused his very being. When he couldn't flip a switch and assert himself, Detroit became the first President's Trophy winner since St. Louis in 2000 to be dismissed in the first round.
2) In the battle of star defensemen, Nicklas Lidstrom had to outplay Edmonton's Chris Pronger. Pronger, the better player throughout the series, was especially effective in Game 5 when he assisted on all three Oilers goals. Lidstrom, the presumptive Norris Trophy winner, had to own the defensive zone and key the Detroit power play. Considering that he has been the best defenseman of his generation -- mistake-free, honest, a template for the position -- he curiously has not always been dominant at the most significant times. Although Sweden won the Olympic gold in Turin, Lidstrom did not have a better tournament than Kenny Jonsson, the former NHL player who is now skating for a second-division club back home, or Finland's Kimmo Timonen or a handful of others. Maybe after a career that has included so much heavy lifting - including three 35-pound Stanley Cups - there is no fifth gear.