If I may, I’d like to preface this with the fact that I am very, very biased towards Czech and Slovak NHLers. Nathan Walker was recently the first Australian to score a goal in the AHL, but since he began his professional career in the Czech Republic, I’ve taken the liberty as claiming him as one of ours. I can name nearly every Czech Capitals player in history, and I have openly expressed my unapologetic annoyance to each time they were traded away. I still don’t agree with the Forsberg trade, but hey, at least we got a Czech out of it. I even have a slight soft spot for Jagr’s glorious mullet curls, albeit ironically.
Thus, in my biased opinion, Michal Neuvirth has not received the recognition he deserves. Historically, he’s gotten most of his starts against teams the Capitals haven’t fared very well against. More recently, Neuvy was given his first season start against the Colorado Avalanche, the only team in the NHL with an undefeated record. With 23 saves comparable to Varlamov’s 40, it was difficult for him to save face. No goaltender is going to look great when the odds are stacked against him, and it grows more and more difficult to be a fan favorite when you don’t have as much clout in the crease. Observe if you will Capitals starting goalie Braden Holtby. His voodoo-like –isms are endearing to the masses. His gorgeous kinfolk have won over the hearts of D.C. families, his steely demeanor makes girls swoon, and his luscious flowing locks have won the respect of Grown Ass Men everywhere.
This kind-of-not-really goalie non-controversy has always been a bit of a theme within the Capitals organization, and has achieved a recent renewal. First, some history.
Neuvy started his career with the Caps in October of 2010 with two Calder Cups under his belt, nudging out the ever-injured Varlamov for the starting goalie spot for the greater part of the year. Neuvs earned a 27-12-4 regular season record, with a .979 save percentage and 0.43 GAA. Although his rookie NHL record was nothing short of remarkable, he was still demoted to make room for the seasoned Tomas Vokoun (also Czech,thankyouverymuch). Due to the breakable Bohemians in the post-season, Holtby came to the rescue in the playoffs of 2012. He touted a mildly impressive minor league record of 20-15-2, GAA of 2.61, and save percentage of .906. Holtby debuted his NHL career with a .934 save percentage and 1.79 GAA in 14 games.
Look. There is no disputing that the two are talented young guns. Just bear with me.
With the lackluster performance of the ENTIRE TEAM Saturday (every last one of them are to blame for that clustermess), Holtbeast got pulled a mere 12:48 into the first. Oates commended his less-than-favorable outburst under the pretense of something like, “It’s cool because that means he cares”. The last time Holtby met Calgary, he was pulled in the first after three goals on only 11 shots. Neuvy took over for the duration of the game this time around, and his efforts were subsequently ignored by the greater media. The Flames outshot our beloved Caps a pitiful 17-8 in the first period alone.
Armed solely with what appeared to be slow moving traffic cones, Neuvs floundered valiantly in the crease. He ended the game with a .895 save percentage in comparison with Holtby’s .786, stopping 17 shots in the gauntlet that is the Capitals defensive zone. At the risk of beating the horse more dead than it already was, they lost 5-2 and now we can all forget that happened.
Now, since I stayed up for it, let’s talk about what happened in Vancouver.
After the Caps knocked off two penalty kills in the first and a brutal wrister by one of the Grady-like Sedin twins, Zack Kassian tucked in the first goal at 11:31. A bout of blue-line confusion led to a rush, and puck found the five hole (on Schmidt and Neuvirth, respectively). Neuvs halted Henrik Sedin early in the third, gaining momentum for the Caps to leg up 2-1. Unfortunately, those pesky rebounds reminded us that they are indeed the bane of our defensive existence, and Kesler rallied it in a minute after Grabovski gained the lead. The Other One, Daniel, fired a shot through the high slot and past Neuvy, en route to a 3-2 win.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Kitten had a total of 38 saves in a city the Caps have had a 1-6-1 record.
Now, before I go off on a rant about how our offense seems to put on their bunny slippers and shuffle around the ice, it is vital for the reader to know that a goalie cannot win a game by himself. The Capitals lost against the Canucks because they fail to grasp opportunities. They lost because they fail to capitalize on the odd man rush. They lost because they have the same sense of urgency as a college student with senioritis. The boys will get tired and throw their goalie to the wolves. It’s impossible to win when your goalie has been eaten by wolves.
Although Holtby has the personality and reputation of a starting goalie, it does not negate the fact that Neuvirth is a viable option. Quite frankly, if Neuvirth continues to outplay Holtby there is absolutely no reason as to why he wouldn’t earn his starting title back. Within the Capitals organization, there are no rookie goalies prepared to play backup for a team with a minimal defensive strategy. Philip Grubauer and David Leggio, albeit talented, are not up to par with the dynamic duo the Caps have now. One goalie should not get the start over another due to a popularity contest. C’mon coach, play the Czech.
No one puts Kitten in the corner.