For just the second time this season, Michal Neuvirth is set to start in consecutive games as he is expected to get the nod in net tonight against the Colorado Avalanche after recording his first shoutout of the year in Winnipeg Thursday.
It’s been a trying season for Neuvirth, 23, who grew accustomed to a heavy workload during his rookie campaign and has struggled with infrequent starts. He enters Saturday’s game 4-5-1 on the season with a .885 save percentage and 3.38 goals against average.
When a bruised heel held him out of the lineup in October, it derailed any true chance of a rotation with veteran Tomas Vokoun, who is equally accustomed to playing the bulk of a team’s games.
As both netminders have struggled, though, Neuvirth was given a chance and his first start in four games against the Jets. The young Czech had his best outing of the season in a 26-save shutout that included 14 saves in the first period alone as he held the Capitals in the game.
“I felt pretty good [Thursday] night and it kind of gave me a lot of confidence for [Saturday],” Neuvirth said, adding that at times it has been difficult to assimilate to the lack of consistent playing time. “It’s a new role for me, I never was a backup before in my career or anything close to that. I’m learning. If coach tells me you’re going to play obviously I’m going to go out and do my best. It can be pretty hard sometimes. But maybe if I keep winning, I’ll get some more starts.”
Coach Dale Hunter knows what kind of goaltender Neuvirth can be. In the OHL, Neuvirth helped his Plymouth Whalers knock Hunter’s London Knights out of the playoffs in 2007.
“It’s just getting your timing back and get going. Last night he showed that he’s a top-end goalie,” said Hunter, who wouldn’t say whether Neuvirth would be given the opportunity to get on a bit of a roll only that the second-year netminder had earned himself a start against the Avalanche.