Two goaltenders, but no controversy in Washington
Some of the looming questions surrounding the Washington Capitals these days relate to its goaltenders. That there are two healthy, capable and talented young goalies ready to get between the pipes once the NHL season begins is certainly a benefit to the team and a testament to a strong farm system in Hershey that has factored into their development.
There is no question that Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth are ready to play.
The question is who will be starting in goal in the season opener and more importantly, who will distinguish themselves as the clear number one goalie during the shorter 48-game season? The adjusted season may actually prove to be beneficial to both Holtby and Neuvirth.
Conventional hockey wisdom says to stick with the hot handed goalie until they put up a stinker or two or get lit up and are unable to bounce back. But how do you decide how to divvy up starts when you have two guys who are equally capable? Both goaltenders spent the lockout playing, Holtby for the Hershey Bears and Neuvirth for HC Sparta Praha in Czech League, so both are in shape and neither are coming into training camp or the season needing to shake off any rust collected during the lockout.
Neuvirth has never quite been able to snap up and keep the number-one spot for himself. There’s always been another guy, be it Semyon Varlamov, Tomas Vokoun or Braden Holtby - noble adversaries, as it were. Now is the time for him to prove that he deserves to be the top goaltender in Washington, and he is certainly capable of doing that. Also worth thinking about is the fact that Neuvirth will become a restricted free agent once his contract expires this year. He is currently signed to a two-year, $2.3 million contract with the Capitals, but don’t rule out a possible signing elsewhere this summer. He undoubtedly wants to play in Washington, but could decide to make a move for the right situation with another team.
Holtby is in the final year of his 3-year, $1.85 million, entry-level contract with Washington, but it’s hard to imagine Washington wanting to part ways with him in the near future, but anything can happen between now and then. Maybe he’ll get a raise, who knows.
Statistics are fairly arbitrary when it comes to the discussion of these two goaltenders. Neuvirth has a considerably higher amount of regular-season experience than Holtby, but both aren’t that far apart in playoff starts. What makes Holtby’s playoff run so remarkable was the fact that he came in cold from AHL competition and looked like a seasoned veteran while matched up against skilled teams like the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. Holtby’s .929. career SV% and 2.02 GAA may prove to be unsustainable over an 82-game season, in fact it probably will regress to the mean at some point in his career, inevitably.
While the net might be up for contention, don’t think that Neuvirth and Holtby are bitter rivals off the ice. Holtby said Neuvirth is “a pretty easy teammate, he’s pretty relaxed about things, and it’s a great characteristic to have.” Both goalies have played together for the majority of their respective careers.
Neuvirth has already brushed off allusions to a bitter battle for the number one spot. “I just want to prepare myself and whenever I get the chance, I’ll be ready,” he said.
The best thing both goaltenders can do is focus on their own individual preparations and put forward the best performance possible when called upon to mind the net, regardless of any controversy that may be swirling.
Coach Adam Oates has alluded to the fact that the other players expect they’ll see Holtby in net for the season opener in Tampa Bay on Saturday – the key phrase being “the players expect,” not confirming or denying either way who will be starting. It will probably be Holtby, but it might be Neuvirth – and Oates has most likely already made his decision, but he’s not going to tell you or anyone else just yet.