Neuvirth salutes the crowd after being named the first star of the night. (Photo: Rob Carr)
Michal Neuvirth had been left behind in the Capitals goalie controversy. While Braden Holtby has struggled to find playing time, Neuvy hadn’t suited up for a game since November 29, when he got hurt stepping on the ice for warmups. Eventually, Neuvirth’s agent requested a trade. The status quo, though, continued. Philipp Grubauer got the starts, Holtby sat on the bench, and Neuvy watched from the press box. With little notice, Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave the Czech netminder a chance Friday.
“I was nervous as hell,” Neuvirth said of his thoughts before the game. “I was probably as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me ‘Just do what you do and try to be good.’”
“First time I step on the ice for warmup, I was feeling pretty good and confident,” he added.
Unlike Holtby’s returns to the lineup, Neuvirth was sublime in net. After sitting out a month and a half, he made 32 saves on 34 shots in a 3-2 win over Toronto. Neuvy got into the contest early, backing up the Caps after some defense breakdowns.
“I haven’t seen the puck for some time,” said Neuvirth. “I’ve been trying to get myself ready. It paid off tonight.”
The only two dents against Neuvy deserve little blame. One came off an alert tip by James van Reimsdyk while the other was deflected by Caps defender Karl Alzner off the blade of Phil Kessel. Neuvirth improved his season numbers to 3-3-1 with a save percentage of .916 and a goals against average of 2.72.
“I thought he played a great game, I really did,” Oates told reporters. “He had to wait his turn.”
Washington’s goalie situation remains in flux though. There’s no evidence Oates — or goalie coach Olie Kolzig — possesses a grand plan for the netminders going forward. While solid, the play of Grubauer (6-2-3, .931 SV%, 2.27 GAA) has taken a bit of a dip recently. Whether Neuvirth’s start is a precursor to the German getting sent down remains to seen. Friday, Grubauer was texting in the press box, a healthy scratch less than 24 hours after winning a big game for his team. Another possibility, given the trade request, is that Neuvy is being shopped. Neuvirth isn’t sure what the answer is either.
“It’s just one game,” he said of his performance.