WASHINGTON — At the end of almost every Golden Knights practice, the team’s defensemen break away from the rest of the group and are put through a drill.
When it was Shea Theodore’s turn to go Friday, the other seven defensemen closely watched the 22-year-old former first-round pick.
“We’re just amazed by him,” fellow defenseman Luca Sbisa said. “We say he dances on the blue line, which he does. It’s pretty amazing.”
The slick-skating Theodore has featured prominently for the Knights during the Stanley Cup Final and was on the ice for nine of the 15 goals during the opening two games.
He set up fourth-line winger Tomas Nosek for the go-ahead goal in Game 1 and scored himself in Game 2, but also had a minus-2 rating in Washington’s 3-2 victory over the Knights on Wednesday.
With Game 3 set for 5 p.m. Saturday at Capital One Arena, Theodore will be front and center again as the Knights try to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“There’s a couple plays obviously I’d like to take back defensively. But it’s a new day and it’s going to be a new day tomorrow,” Theodore said following practice. “I feel good. Those plays will come, and I feel like if I get some time offensively, I can make those plays. It’s been nice to get some of those bounces, for sure.”
Theodore led the Knights in total ice time during their Game 1 victory (21:52 on 26 shifts) and was on the ice for six of the game’s 10 goals to finish with a plus-2 rating.
Midway through the third period, he made a marvelous move along the wall to get around Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly then threaded a cross-ice pass to Nosek for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
“His confidence has gotten better every single game throughout the year, and in these playoffs, it’s no different,” defense partner Deryk Engelland said. “He’s been great for us. He’s fun to watch play.”
The results were more mixed Wednesday for Theodore, whose power-play goal late in the second period brought the Knights within 3-2. His 22:04 of ice time was second among defenseman behind Nate Schmidt, but he also was on the ice for two of the Capitals’ three goals.
In the first period, Theodore lost a battle for the puck with Andre Burakovsky after a faceoff in the Knights zone. That started a beautiful passing sequence by Washington that ended with Theodore unable to recover in time to prevent Lars Eller’s one-timer.
“Defensively, when you make those mistakes, you want to go over it and you want to replay that in your head just so it doesn’t happen again,” Theodore said. “Kind of in general, a couple plays being stronger on the boards or trying to pick plays off in the neutral zone. Definitely have to be stronger on those, and that’s something I feel like will come.”
Theodore was hard on himself following Game 2 and spent a portion of Thursday’s off day reviewing video of the Capitals’ goals with Engelland.
Theodore and Engelland have been matched up primarily against the Capitals’ second line, which was quiet in Game 2 after giving the Knights fits in the series opener.
“Shea’s a 22-year-old kid who’s played unbelievable hockey for us,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “He makes great plays. He’s a skilled young defenseman. Guys are going to make mistakes in games. Every player makes mistakes in games, (and) he’s a made a number of great plays.”
Theodore leads the Knights defensemen in scoring during the postseason and his nine points (three goals and six assists) in 17 gamesis tied for sixth in the league. His point total surpassed the eight points he posted in 14 playoff games with Anaheim last season.
Theodore said his experience last season when the Ducks reached the Western Conference Final has helped him deal with the intensity of the Stanley Cup Final.
“I think just the pressure moments, definitely,” Theodore said. “Whether it’s a tie game or you’re down by one, you’ve got to be calm, cool and collected the whole way through. I feel like that’s been a big part of my game throughout this year.”
■ Who: Golden Knights at Washington Capitals
■ What: Game 3, Stanley Cup Final
■ When: 5 p.m. Saturday
■ Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.
■ TV: NBCSN (Cox 38/1038, DirecTV 220, CenturyLink 6400/1640, Dish Network 159)
■ Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
■ Line: Capitals -125; total 5 1/2 u-115
1. Road show. The Golden Knights are 6-2 on the road in the playoffs and have played some of their best hockey away from T-Mobile Arena. They’ll try to regain home-ice advantage against a Capitals team that is under .500 (4-5) in their home rink in the postseason.
2. Fleury bounce back. Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was lights out in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But he’s seen his numbers dip in two games against Washington (3.56 goals-against average, .870 save percentage).
3. Secondary scoring. The Capitals’ depth played a key role in Game 2, with third-line forwards Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky combining for five points (one goal, four assists). Meanwhile, the Knights’ third line has yet to produce a point in the series.
David Schoen Review-Journal