The Washington Capitals recent stretch of games has left the impression that the club is confident in Michal Neuvirth getting the bulk of playing time in goal. Neuvirth has picked up a win in his last five starts, and in 11 of his last 12 appearances. Neuvirth’s success in the win column comes despite some relatively shaky performances between the pipes. Still, Bruce Boudreau’s decision to ride Neuvirth down the stretch would indicate that he’s likely to get the nod heading into the playoffs.
The goaltending scene in Washington this season has resembled a game of musical chairs. Semyon Varlamov has long been considered the goaltender of the future in D.C., but injuries, inconsistency, and the rise of two other young goalies have limited his ability to claim the role as number one. The Capitals appeared to have their tandem in place for the foreseeable future when they signed Michal Neuvirth to a 2-year $2.3-million extension prior to the start of the season, but injuries to both he and Varlamov opened the door for Braden Holtby much sooner than anyone would have predicted.
With injuries and questions abound, Neuvirth has managed to carry most of the load in 2010-11 by appearing in a team leading 47 games and posting some decent numbers (27-11-4, 2.49, .913%). Although Neuvirth lacks any NHL playoff experience, he has impressed in the AHL winning back-to-back Calder Cups with the Hershey Bears. Semyon Varlamov has played in 19 NHL post season games, making him the only goaltender with any playoff experience that the Capitals have.
Caps fans have seemingly put their faith in Neuvirth according to a recent Washington Post poll:
It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Capitals enter the playoffs with a 1A-1B goaltending system, handing the reigns to Neuvirth to begin and inserting Varlamov as necessary. Much like the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs, who ran with the red-hot Halak – but used Carey Price when needed. The Capitals starting goaltender could change from night to night depending on results.
Who starts in goal for Washington when the playoffs begin is ultimately up to head coach Bruce Boudreau, his recent comments following a March 31 OT win over Columbus would indicate that he has confidence in Neuvirth’s ability:
“Doesn’t matter if you got five by him or one by him. He’s really good when the game is on the line and he had to make some real good saves at the end to preserve it. That’s, to me, the sign of a real winner.”
Postseason success is paramount for the 2010-11 Washington Capitals. Whomever Boudreau and company decide to rely upon to open the playoffs will in all likelihood be on a short leash, thus it’s not as important who starts the first game – but who wins the first game.