It hasn’t been the easiest season for Michal Neuvirth so far. The 23-year-old Czech goaltender, who started in last year’s playoffs, has seen infrequent game action, and when he has been in net it hasn’t always been successful.
But Neuvirth, called upon for his first start in four games and the first under Coach Dale Hunter, was solid when the Capitals needed him to be Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators. He made 32 saves to record his first win since Nov. 4 at Carolina and didn’t give up a goal when the score was tied.
“It’s not easy when you’re not playing very often,” said Neuvirth, who is 3-4-1 on the season. “It’s huge [to get the win]. I’ve been practicing well and finally today I found a little bit of luck. It’s only one game but it’s good for confidence. I just want to get on a roll.”
Through nine appearances, Neuvirth has the worst numbers of his young NHL career with an .878 save percentage and 3.60 goals against average. To be certain, part of those numbers can be attributed to the Capitals’ slide that prompted the coaching change, but such a stretch can shake the confidence of any goaltender, especially a young one.
“He played real well, not a lot of rebounds. He smothered a lot of rebounds a lot of traffic shots,” Hunter said. “They’ve got a lot of D that can really shoot on that team and [they create] traffic in front, so he had to be sharp.”
Saturday marked the first time Neuvirth played with Hunter’s system unfolding in front of him and said he thought his teammates accomplished their defensive jobs.
“I think we’re more focusing on defensive hockey right now,” Neuvirth said. “We don’t want to give up any odd-man rushes, and I don’t think they had one or maybe they had only one. We did pretty good job, and it was a big team effort tonight for two big points.”