When the Caps made their first visit to Madison Square Garden a season ago, Jose Theodore - the team's big free agent acquisition and number one goalie (nominally, at least) - was struggling. He entered the game with a 9-6-1 record, an ugly 3.32 goals against average and an even uglier .881 save percentage. And on that night, a bad start to the season got even worse as he was yanked just 11:15 into the game after surrendering three goals on just five shots against. But when Brent Johnson couldn't start the second period, Theo found himself back in net... where he promptly let in another Blueshirt tally in the stanza's first five minutes.
Then something happened. To be a bit more precise, Alex Ovechkin happened. The rest, as they say, is history. And the history, as it relates to Jose Theodore, is that of a goaltender who in 66 regular season starts in the 13 months since that late-December night has gone 41-18-8/2.70/.909. That win total is obviously impressive (especially for a netminder who has slipped in and out of the number one role almost as often as Karl Alzner has been sent to and from Hershey), and those other numbers aren't bad either, especially for the backstop to an offensive juggernaut.
But consistency, of course, has been the issue with Theodore (at least in this Capitals incarnation of the former Vezina and Hart winner). You can look at the scorching 8-1-0/2.28/.930 January he just put together and legitimately wonder if February will bring another strong month or whether it will look more like November's 3-1-1/3.89/.873. Will it be closer to October's .915 save percentage or December's .891? Put another way, there's a reason that Theodore didn't see any ice time in any of the Caps' three post-season games in the building in which he turned his Caps career around, and it's not just because Semyon Varlamov was a revelation in the crease. It's also because consecutive poor outings in the spring can all but spell an early tee time on their own.
Jose Theodore has now gone eight consecutive starts without allowing more than three goals against (and is sporting a 2.09 GAA and .939 SV% in those games), easily his best stretch as a Cap. He's only allowed more than three goals in one of his last 17 appearances since November 14, compiling a 13-4-0/2.39/.923 line and his first back-to-back months with a sub-2.96 GAA as a Cap along the way, despite a relatively light workload; maybe he has added some consistency to his game. And the team in front of him is playing better than ever before - and he has bailed them out at least twice during The Streak with precisely the types of performances that turn otherwise ordinary goalies into post-season heroes.
But has he fully won back the confidence of his head coach? His teammates? His fans?
Given Varlamov's inability to get and stay healthy, Caps fans - even if they're not saying it aloud - have to be wondering whether or not they would feel comfortable with Jose Theodore starting Game 1 (and perhaps twenty or so more) of the playoffs this coming April. If you'd asked me a month ago, my answer would have been different than it is today. And if you ask me a month from now, it might have changed again. C'est la vie avec José.