Although I think the system is broken when the team which currently has the 8th most points in the conference gets the 3rd seed simply by virtue of a weak division, that’s where the Panthers find themselves. They are a good story after an on-the-fly rebuild in the off-season, but as a result, the 6th seeded team draws the easier matchup than the 4th or 5th seed, but I digress. Either way, a resurgent Jose Theodore has been a big part of Florida’s success thus far. Let’s take a closer look and see how he stacks up against the Blueshirts if they were to meet in the post-season.
Theodore is a smallish goalie by today’s NHL standards, listed at 5’11’’ and 182 lbs. Believe it or not, this is actually Jose’s 15th NHL season. Since he started his career in the mid-90’s, there are some remnants of the now “old-school” style of the Marty’s (Brodeur and Biron), but has incorporated elements of the more modern style to keep his game relevant. Theodore is also a southpaw, which is always fun.
Jose almost a perfect split of the old and new styles that have gained prominence during his NHL tenure. He is a strong skater, but he does not possess the scrambling prowess of some of his younger counterparts. He does utilize the butterfly slide too often, but acquits himself well when the circumstances require him to use it. He has very good positioning, but his smaller frame/equipment makes him susceptible to screens and deflections.
Theodore’s biggest strength by far is his positioning. Because of his size and lack of elite lateral movement, it is imperative that he is square to the shot at all times. Additionally, because he is a strong skater, his shuffling ability helps ensure he is square to the puck without overshooting his target.
Theodore also has a historically strong glove hand. Most NHL netminders don’t show a significant strength in one hand over the other, but Jose (at least to the eye test) seems to have a much stronger glove side than stick side. His stick side is not a glaring weakness, but it’s an interesting point to note. Left-handed goalies notoriously mess with the angular approach of shooters, since everything is backwards, and Theodore uses this advantage to its fullest.
Being a fairly vanilla goaltender has pro’s and con’s. One pro being there are no glaring weaknesses in his game, and a con is that you aren’t particularly intimidating to your opposition. Theodore is getting up there in age at this point and has seen his play decline annually since his Hart Trophy win during the 2001-2002 season. This year has been something of a renaissance season for Jose, and it seems he has been able to do this by getting back to basics (that, and a solid Florida blue line). The point is, Theodore does not possess the elite skills of some of his eastern conference counterparts. There is nothing in his game that is particularly weak, but there is nothing intimidating about his game either.
How the Rangers should approach the matchup
As boring and un-insightful as this may sound, Theodore is not the type of goalie that the Rangers should alter their offensive strategy for. His game is fairly standard and his weaknesses really lie in quality execution. He has played two games against the Rangers so far this season; in one, he played very well, and in the other, he got lit up. He can be beaten by quality shots and is susceptible to traffic in front, but he’s not going to give up a ton “soft” goals, and he will generally make you work for it.
If you had to choose a focus for the offensive attack, I would try to make the east-west game in the lower part of the offensive zone a priority. As mentioned above, Theodore does not possess elite lateral movement and does not butterfly slide all that well/often. If rebounds can be generated or quality lateral passing, it should not be all that difficult to solve Jose. The bigger difficulty will be navigating the Florida defenders.
*due to the general awfulness of the Southeast Division, I’m going to keep an eye on Washington and Winnipeg to see if those tenders require analysis. Next up: Martin Brodeur.