Caps' Neuvirth the man in goal, for now
When the Washington Capitals hit the road on Thursday night to battle the Toronto Maple Leafs, Michal Neuvirth will make his fifth-straight start in goal.
Since being beaten out by last year's spring playoff sensation Braden Holtby out of camp, Neuvirth watched Holtby get lit up for 10 goals in his first two starts to begin the lockout shortened season. While Holtby didn't get much help from his mates up front, the 23-year-old looked far from the breakout star we all thought we were witnessing last spring.
After a 4-2 loss in the home opener, first-year coach Adam Oates made the call to go with Neuvirth against the Canadiens in game three. While the numbers weren't great -four goals on 22 shots- Neuvirth made some big saves to keep the dogged Caps from being blown out even further. The results did come, however, for the Czech netminder the next night in New Jersey where he was spectacular in a losing effort. Neuvirth made 32 saves on 35 shots and was left out to dry in overtime on a disastrous deflection as the Caps fell again. But throughout regulation and overtime, Neuvirth was the best player on the ice for Washington.
Oates took notice, giving him the next two starts against Buffalo and Ottawa. In the Caps' first win of 2013, Neuvirth stopped 22 of 24 shots in defeating the Sabres. In Ottawa on Tuesday he was at it again, keeping his team in a game in which they blew a two-goal lead late. This time Neuvirth was done in by a late, and controversial, high-sticking penalty on Joel Ward that produced a Sergei Gonchar powerplay goal that deflected off John Carlson's knee.
While his 1-2-1 record, 2.96 GAA and .889 SV % look bad, they don't tell the whole story. The fact is that both Caps goalies have been let down by the rest of the team. But even in defeat, Michal Neuvirth has stepped up to keep his team in games that, frankly, they have no business being in right now.
The Caps' 1-4-1 start hasn't been ideal for rookie coach Adam Oates, but he's also gotten very little production from his best players- namely captain Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (combined five points, -4 rating)- so far. But what he has gotten, is solid goaltending from Neuvirth, who has always seemed to be the odd man out between the pipes in DC. But for now, they're all his, and hopefully he runs with the opportunity.