With a playoff berth in hand and nothing left to do but prepare for a long Cup run, the Capitals will start ironing out any lineup wrinkles that remain. The popular question for Bruce Boudreau right now is, who will be his #1 goaltender when the playoffs begin? While the question is asked ad nauseum, we have witnessed a sort of revolving door, decision process where Boudreau will start Holtby, Neuvirth, or Varlamov, depending on who he feels is playing best or is the healthiest. At least, that’s what coach says. Maybe too much is being made of an apparent lack of a true, NHL starter in net for Washington.
It seems that the #TeamVarly, #TeamNeuvy, and #TeamHoltby folks, really stepped up the Twitter rhetoric since the Philadelphia game. There were many people that felt like Neuvirth had one of his worst performances of the season and contributed to the Flyers comeback during regulation. Apparently, they felt that either Semyon Varlamov (when healthy) or Braden Holtby, would have been able to stop pucks that found the back of the net on fluke plays. They called out Michal Neuvirth for not saving goals on the following plays:
- A puck that bounced off of Dennis Wideman’s skate who was tying up the man driving the far post.
- A horrible, blue line turnover by Alex Semin that left everyone out of defensive position.
- Another horrible turnover by Jeff Schultz (about that contract extension; when does Mike Green come back, again?).
- Another puck that glanced off Dennis Wideman, right to the blade of Danny Briere.
On the second and third Flyers’ goals, Neuvy might have had a slim chance of making a save. I will give the haters that. However, there is no denying, the bonehead mistakes and flukey bounces from the skaters in front of Neuvirth, were the main contributors to the Philly comeback. Despite the video evidence (yes, I watched the replay), the discussions have continued for the past two days.
Clouding everyone’s vision is the fact that all three of the Capitals’ young goaltenders are good. When they get their chances, each goaltender has played well for several games. Each goaltender has made some spectacular and game saving stops. Does one of them stand out as great? As in, championship winning, great?
No but they probably don’t need to be.
It has been well documented that the Capitals are playing much better team defense this season. The Caps are only allowing 2.36 goals against per game. That is third best in the league. The Caps are fourth in blocked shots with 593 (last season they ended with 600 total, 8th best). They are tied for first with the Kings and Pens in penalty kill percentage. The Caps boast a +23 goal differential despite having the second lowest goals for total, of the top 8 teams in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals have the ninth best one-goal-game winning percentage. There is little doubt amongst, players, coaches, media, and fans, the Capitals look very comfortable up or down by one, in most games. The Caps, as a team, are playing better defensively and limiting the opposition’s scoring enough, to win games.
To me, this means that no matter who is in net, the tender just has to be good. In the playoffs, the Caps should and will have to keep playing sound, team defense. The goalie in net for the Caps will have to be good enough to make the saves they have to and should not be expected to win a game on their own.
Since you can’t have all three in net, who do you choose? Right now, I would go with Michal Neuvirth. He is relatively healthy (looking at you, Semyon). Neuvy is winning games. Most importantly, he has championship winning experience in Hershey (looking at you, Braden). His playoff numbers in “the”A” are pretty impressive. For the 2009 Calder Cup, he recorded a 1.92 goals against average and .932 save percentage, in 22 games. In 2010, while securing a second Calder Cup, he had a 2.07 goals against average and .920 save percentage, in 18 games. I think he can handle the playoff grind, just fine.
So, while everyone grills Boudreau to name a starter and Twitter feeds explode with speculation on Semyon Varlamov’s free agency status and possible return to Russia to play in the KHL, I say, worry not. If the Washington Capitals continue to buy in and play the team defense that has secured their playoff spot and brought them to second place in the Eastern Conference, then the only thing to worry about is the power play.