One of the biggest determining factors in which goaltender will start in net for the Capitals this season has been the health of any particular netminder at any given moment. The seemingly constant stream of injuries in goal has been well documented, and the latest setback came when Semyon Varlamov suffered a knee injury just before he was scheduled to start on Long Island this weekend.
That means that for the time being, Michal Neuvirth is once again the go-to in goal for the Capitals. Braden Holtby was recalled from Hershey now that he has recovered from his latest knee injury, and it’s possible he will see time for the Capitals depending on how much time Varlamov will miss. But Coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t have any doubts that he can rely on Neuvirth to shoulder the bulk of the responsibilities.
“So far he’s been great,” Boudreau said. “He’s done an admirable job. I don’t know how else to say it, but he still hasn’t been overworked, so we’re still in good position with him.”
Neuvirth was essentially the exclusive option in goal for the Capitals through the first two months of the season, when Varlamov missed time after suffering a groin injury.Neuvirth appeared in 18 of the first 21 games of the year and won rookie of the month honors in October.
Since then, Neuvirth has experienced occasional injuries of his own, including hip and groin problems, and alternated with Varlamov once the latter returned to full strength. But with only 18 games left in the regular season and Varlamov sidelined, it’s once again Neuvirth -- who tied the franchise record for wins by a rookie with his 20th on Tuesday against the Islanders -- whom the Capitals turn to.
A start against the Blues tonight will mark Neuvirth’s 10th in the past 12 games. He started seven of nine prior to the game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum that was originally planned for Varlamov.
Neuvirth’s numbers -- 2.50 goals against average and .913 save percentage -- may not necessarily blow anyone away, but what’s impressed the Capitals’ coaching staff has been the way that he reacts when things go wrong -- whether a bad goal, game or anything in the middle.
“I think when he’s good, he’s smothering pucks and not letting rebounds go,” Boudreau said. “The thing he’s done best all year is bounce back. He doesn’t let things bother him. Sometimes goalies let things bother them and let things fester for a couple days, but he still comes out, practices hard and does what he has to do.”