NeuvirthFirstStar

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.

  • Steve Killmon

    It was quite the sigh of relief in the phone booth after a bunch of his saves. We were 12 rows up behind him in the 2nd. He looked like he was tracking the puck really well and squaring up. There were only a couple times he looked like he over-played something a bit and luckily the shots didn’t come. Great game by Neuvy.

    Also not sure how the PPG squeaked through. Looked like he had the post sealed off.

  • RESmith

    If the Caps don’t trade one of the three during the season, they’ll need to in the offseason. Grubauer has at least proven he is ready to complete at the NHL level, and I’m not sure how much he will gain developmentally with another year starting in the AHL. Problem is the Caps don’t have much coming through the pipeline to replace him.

    Neuvirth is pretty solid in his positioning and technique, he just needs to work on focus and consistency. Despite Holtby’s better athleticism, I think in the long run Nuevirth will turn out to be the better goalie (if given time to play.) It took Olie close to a decade after he was drafted to put it all together, but when he did, he developed into the best goaltender this franchise has had to date.

  • Sam E. Dreamer

    While having 3 NHL quality goalies is a “great problem to have,” it does seem to be having an effect on the team. I’m no hockey player, but I got to believe its tough on the rest of the players to have to deal with a different goalie every night. Seems they play nervous when they have a new goalie in the net, worried they will make them look bad or the goalie will play bad (holtby comes to mind). Its a terrible idea to send Grubauber back to AHL and ride the Neuvy-Holtby train?

  • Graham Dumas

    I’m not sure I agree. Neuvirth looked awesome last night, no doubt. And I think he’s a very, very solid goalie. But I think consistency is his Achilles, and I’m not sure it’s surmountable. Holtby, to boot, is more athletic and has better positioning IMO. I think he’s had a crappy stint of late, but that’s it. Gruby should be the backup, Neuvy should get the trade for value.

  • Graham Dumas

    I like the idea of trading Neuvy and going with Gruby as the established backup.

  • MattR

    I remember olie’s emergence well, and it’s Holtby that reminds me more of olie. Holtby is bigger and more intense, like olie. The key step in olie’s breakthrough was mental, not physical, and I think Holts will do the same thing. One key difference is that Holtby was better than olie early in his career.

    That said, I also think Neuvy is a good NHL goalie. But I just think Holtby has more upside.

  • Red

    Hello Neuvy! Welcome back. Stay healthy. Remember to warm up before warm ups.