The Capitals still remain in search of their first win following Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils, but for the first time this season they received a stand-out performance from their starting goaltender.
It took more than 52 minutes for the offense to crack the scoreboard but while the Capitals waited, Michal Neuvirth kept them afloat and ensured they had the opportunity to even mount a comeback.
“He was unbelievable,” forward Joel Ward said. “Good for him, he’s a great goaltender and I think it’s a great confidence booster for him. To face a power play like [New Jersey’s] as many times as he did and come out of it … If it wasn’t for him we’d be toast. He made some big saves especially down the stretch.”
Neuvirth, 24, made 32 saves over the course of his second start in as many days. Before the game, Coach Adam Oates said he felt bad for Neuvirth following his 18-save performance in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Montreal. He though Neuvirth was “sharp” and thought he deserved another opportunity, even if it was on back-to-back nights.
Two games in 48 hours didn’t seem to faze Neuvirth, though. There was nothing he could really do to prevent either of the first two New Jersey goals — one by Stephen Gionta and the other by Patrik Elias on a 5-on-3 — and he bailed his teammates out time after time to minimize the damage. The game-winning goal by Ilya Kovalchuk with 20.5 seconds remaining in overtime came with the Capitals thoroughly discombobulated in their own zone and unable to keep up with New Jersey’s passing.
“It wasn’t easy game, you know. I didn’t have a lot of work in the first period,” Neuvirth said. “The only good scoring chance they had they scored. But I battled hard and after I made a couple of big saves, I settled down and played my game.”
For much of the second period it was Neuvirth alone who kept the Devils at bay and prevented them from putting the game out of reach. He stopped Jacob Josefson on a breakaway with a blocker save, robbed Marek Zidlicky on the power play with a flash of his glove and after David Clarkson bulldozed his way past John Erskine, Neuvirth put his paddle down to prevent the stuff attempt.
“We needed that big time. He kept us in the game so we’re lucky that he played as good as he did,” Karl Alzner said. “Would have loved to keep a couple of those Grade-A chances away from him.”