Michal Neuvirth is the most patient goaltender in the world.
He had every reason to believe that he would be the starting goalie this year, and there was a slight hiccup in that plan when the team brought in veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun. Disappointing, of course, but Neuvirth didn’t pitch a fit about it, he just put his head down and tried to work harder. Neuvirth struggled this year, but when Vokoun struggled as well, Neuvirth was always there to step in.
Tomas Vokoun got all dressed up for 2011 summer free agency, put on his glittering career numbers and his solid veteran history and waited for a dancing partner. It didn’t go as planned.
He watched his old team hook up with a new French Canadian flame, watched the Philadelphia Flyers fall all over themselves for Ilya Bryzgalov and the Phoenix Coyotes chase a tall dark unknown. Somehow, at the end of all the frenzy, Vokoun was left without an offer.
Left with few options, Vokoun agreed to a mercenary marriage of convenience with the Caps, an embarrassingly cheap, $1.5 M one-year deal. The Czech veteran got to play on what should have been a contending team and get his name back out there; the Caps got an apparent upgrade in goal. Everyone wins, right?
Wrong. The loveless arranged marriage quickly went sour, and abruptly came to an end today as the Caps traded Vokoun’s rights to bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he promptly signed a two-year deal. How could things have gone so wrong with a goaltender who could been the MVP? Let’s take a look.
There were a few common themes to the Capitals’ last postseason interviews, before they went their separate ways for summer. The first question posed was always about Dale Hunter, who has made the decision to return to the London Knights franchise in Ontario rather than stay on to coach the Caps. The team expressed universal admiration and gratitude for what he brought to the Capitals in his short tenure, often focusing less on his system than on the character and sense of accountability he was able to instill.
There was clear disappointment at the early ending to the season, but a different tone to the team’s assessment of their year than the year before — many of the Caps mentioned that they thought they were able to go out in a way that they feel better about this year, though of course they’d all still rather be playing hockey.
Read on for the details of Jay Beagle‘s injury, Brooks Laich standing outside Hunter’s window holding a boombox, and Hunter’s odd career model for Alexander Ovechkin.
A day after their thrilling 3-2 victory over the Rangers to even the series, Washington took to the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Sunday morning. As they prepared to head to New York for a pivotal Game 5 Monday, the team’s sprits were high and the beards long. Below, check out some of my photos from the skate.
In preparation, we peaked back at last year’s quarterfinal series between the Caps and Rangers in hopes that it might give us a glimpse at the future. No matter their predictive value, these five games were a freaking blast. Join me for some good memories behind the jump.
This is it. The Caps nipping at the heels of the division-leading Panthers, playing to deny them the clinch and maybe snatch their crown.
Jay Beagle scored early, trapping a Troy Brouwer shot with his rump and firing from the sweet spot. Alex Ovechkin got on the board in the second, crashing the net and converting Marcus Johansson’s rebound. Brooks Laich piled on with a sniper shot from the high slot after a long session in the offensive zone. Mikael Samuelsson was all alone in the Caps zone, breaking the shutout with a high wrister. The Cats made it a one-goal game via Ed Jovanovski’s deflect goal early in the third. Alex Semin made it a four-goal night with a minute left. Caps beat Panthers 4-2. We’re playoff-bound, baby!
On March 31, 2012, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Neuvy smirks after taking a Rene Bourque slapshot off the mask. (Via @WashCapsRock)
The Washington Capitals’ season is still on shaky ground. Buffalo’s loss to Pittsburgh on Friday kept their hopes alive, but Saturday’s game versus the Montreal Canadiens held huge determinative power. Perfect time for a Comebackstrom.
After having his initial shot blocked, Alex Semin found a wide-open Mathieu Perreault in the slot, for a one-timer. 1-0 Caps. Unguarded in front of the net, Matt Hendricks hit Jay Beagle with a cross-crease pass to put the good guys up 2. Erik Cole then scored a momentum-killing goal with one minute left to go in the first.
In the second period, the Canadiens dominated. Tomas Plekanec tied it up when he went around a slow-skating Roman Hamrlik and scored on the backhand.
After multiple scoring chances for both teams in the third period, the game went to Overtime. Then the shootout. Thanks to goals by Matt Hendricks and Alex Semin, Caps win 3-2.
In March of 2011, a 22-year-old Saskatchewan native got called up to the Capitals after one of their netminders suffered an injury. Unproven and raw, he seemed at ease as he created a three-way goalie controversy on one of the league’s top teams. In March of 2012, a 23-year-old Saskatchewan native may be doing the same thing.
In his three games up with Washington after Tomas Vokoun went out with a groin injury, Braden Holtby has been stellar and ever improving as he turned a .889 save percentage in the first two months of the year in the AHL into a sparkling shutout performance in front of 18,506 fans (but who’s counting?) in one of his team’s biggest games of the year. With the Capitals fighting for every point as they try to squeak into the playoffs, head coach Dale Hunter may have no choice but to play the hot hand — even if the question was supposed to be settled when the Capitals traded away Michal Neuvirth’s competition before making the surprise signing of Vokoun in the summer.
“From my short stint in pro hockey you realize things change really quickly,” Holtby told reporters after the game. “I was ready, that’s what I’ve been working towards in Hershey all year. I’m trying to make good call-ups count.”
With the Capitals down 4-1 to the Blackhawks late in the second period, Alex Ovechkin carried the puck solo into the Blackhawks’ zone. With three defending players marking him, Ovechkin didn’t wait for his teammates; he did it Rambo-style. The Russian machine dipped his shoulder, slid the puck between his skates, and walked around one of the NHL’s best defensemen, Duncan Keith. He finished the sequence by putting the puck over Corey Crawford’s left pad to score.