The first three months of the 2011-12 season have been far from the ideal sophomore year that Michal Neuvirth might have planned for himself. But with three consecutive starts for the first time this year over the past six days, the 23-year-old netminder has given himself – and the Capitals – a confidence boost.
In the past three games, Neuvirth has stopped all but three of the 75 shots he’s faced for a .960 save percentage. In five starts and one relief effort under Coach Dale Hunter, he’s stopped 140 of the 151 shots he’s faced for a .927 save percentage.
More important than the numbers, though, are the timely saves that Neuvirth has made recently to help keep Washington in tight games. It’s something that the Capitals haven’t received much of since October as veteran Tomas Vokoun has struggled.
Neuvirth has “been solid, he’s been making big saves for us, and it makes it easy for us to play in front of him,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “We know that if we do make a mistake he’s going to be there with the save to bail us out.”
For Neuvirth, this recent stretch has been an opportunity to get in a rhythm. Being able to roll one successful outing into another is an immeasurable asset for goaltenders and before these three games Neuvirth had started only two games in a row once this year.
“I feel more comfortable every game but I know I can still play a little bit better,” Neuvirth said after the 4-1 win against the Predators. “I think I can still control the rebounds better than I did tonight.”
Against Nashville Tuesday night, Neuvirth wasn’t tested early as the Capitals only allowed their foes four shots on goal in the first period. But as the contest wore on, there were a few defensive breakdowns that required Neuvirth to stand tall.
Perhaps the most eye-popping stop Neuvirth made came 11 minutes and 54 seconds into the third when Nashville’s David Legwand lost his coverage and was unguarded in front of the net. Legwand tried to pull the puck wide on his backhand, but Neuvirth sprawled to make the stop with his glove hand outstretched along the ice.
“He’s been really good, he’s really stepped up and played as we’re used to seeing him play,” Marcus Johansson said. “Last year he was just as good as he is now, he made some really big saves for us tonight and kept us with the lead. Sometimes that’s what you need from a goalie and he was unbelievable tonight.”
Will Neuvirth start over Vokoun in New Jersey on Friday? It’s too soon to tell as Hunter is playing his cards close to the vest on that one, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get the nod again.