While each team in a playoff position in the Eastern Conference has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, nearly all of them have one thing in common – a go-to option in net.
But with five games remaining in the regular season and a trip to the postseason on the line, the Capitals don’t have the luxury of a clear-cut top goaltender. Instead, they have a three-headed monster, with veteran Tomas Vokoun, 24-year-old Michal Neuvirth and 22-year-old rookie Braden Holtby.
Over the 14 games in March, Washington has used all three but none has established consistency and a rhythm over the course of successive games. A strong performance one night hasn’t guaranteed one the next and there’s little reason to believe one netminder holds a secure advantage over any other for the chance to play in these remaining contests.
Coach Dale Hunter doesn’t look at having three goaltenders with no go-to guy as a bad thing for the Capitals.
“When you have three,” Hunter said. “It’s better than having no goalies ready to play. This way I have three goalies that did well and now it’s up to me to make the right call for who I put in.”
Who will Hunter opt to start in the critical contest against the Bruins? Everyone will have to wait – possibly until warm-ups on Thursday evening at TD Garden – to find out.
Here’s a look at the options and how they’ve fared in March:
— Vokoun has appeared in three games this month between two different absences because of a groin muscle strain. He’s deemed himself healthy and available to face the Bruins if the coaching staff would like to use him.
In those three starts, Vokoun is 2-1, having allowed eight goals on 87 shots for a .908 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average. Now that he’s healthy, Vokoun wants the opportunity to lead the Capitals when the games matter most, though.
“You look at it where we are,” Vokoun said. “It’s a lot riding on the season for me, too, so there’s nothing to save anything for. Whatever happens, happens. I play, I’m gonna try and help the team win the game.”
— Neuvirth appeared eight times over the past 14 games but he’s given up four or more goals in five of his seven starts. While Neuvirth has proven he can steal a game for the Capitals, his outings recently have been more average than spectacular. In March, Neuvirth is 2-3-2 with a pedestrian .888 save percentage and 3.07 goals against average.
The uncertainty down the stretch doesn’t bother Neuvirth too much though. “I got kind of used to it,” he said. “You never know. It is what it is. It’s not my decision and that’s why we’ve got a coach.”
— Holtby has appeared in four of six games since he was recalled on March 18. He helped Washington capture five of six points in his first three outings, but in arguably the biggest game of his young career Tuesday against the Sabres, Holtby’s errors led to three goals and a quick exit.
Is the blame for the 5-1 defeat solely on Holtby? No, but his style is one Hunter likes to call risk-reward, and against Buffalo the emphasis was on risk.
In his four games this month, Holtby is 2-1-0 with a .934 save percentage and 2.02 goals against average.