Washington Capitals: No More Goaltending Problems
It’s a great time to be a Caps fan. The Capitals have won eight straight, a streak which started with a great come back in Florida, fighting back from 4-1 down to beat the Panthers 5-4 in a shootout, and they have looked excellent since then. For me, goaltending has been the main factor for the team’s recent success.
It started with the return to the net of Jose Theodore. Theo was publicly frustrated with a lack of playing time as Michal Neuvirth was being given the vast majority of starts in Semyon Varlamov’s absence, but after Neuvy was pulled after conceding four against Tampa Bay, it seemed like Jose would get the start against the Panthers. However, Bruce Boudreau went with the rookie again. After giving up four goals in a period and a half, Neuvirth was once again relieved by Theodore, who backstopped the Caps’ fight back with 15 saves. Since then, Theodore seems to have been on a mission to prove he can still produce some class goaltending, and with the team winning was given the chance to do so. On January 19th, he did just that. With the always-difficult Detroit Redwings visiting Verizon Center, Theodore produced a fantastic display of goaltending, stopping 44 of 46 shots faced as the Caps won 3-2. He was afterwards congratulated by owner Ted Leonsis, as all in attendance were amazed by one of the best goaltending performances by a Capitals’ goalie in recent years. Theodore also recorded an assist on Nick Backstrom’s game-tying goal. With Theo performing excellently, all was good – and Neuvirth returned to winning ways with a solid performance against the Phoenix Coyotes to keep the streak alive – but on Wednesday night, there were fears over Theodore’s health. With the Caps already up 6-2, Theodore was relieved by Neuvirth, as it seemed Boudreau was resting him for Thursday’s clash with the Anaheim Ducks. However it soon became clear that the veteran had picked up an injury. After the game, the team revealed he had picked up a lower-body injury (it turned out to be a hip flexor injury), and was not going to be available for the Ducks game. With Varly already out, this left Neuvirth to start, with 20 year-old Braden Holtby called up from Hershey as backup. After Neuvirth’s previous performances, I was worried he would be lacking confidence, especially against a very good Anaheim side. As it turned out, my fears of the streak ending were unnecessary, as the Caps won 5-1, with Neuvy stopping 30 of 31 shots.
Earlier in the season, I was worried about the Capital’s goaltending situation, with Theodore seeming inconsistent as a backup for young Varlamov. When Varly got injured my fears kicked up a gear. Neuvirth settled my nerves a bit with some good performances to almost take over the number two spot from Theodore. I was ready to start considering potential trades to get rid of Theodore. But then, almost out of nowhere, Theo showed the kind of play he is capable of. I’m not completely sold; I would still accept trading him, and bringing in a veteran goalie to share time with Varlamov (I hear Turco might be available soon), but if Theodore consistently plays the way he has during this streak, we don’t need to change anything in net.
Neuvirth’s performances, ignoring the short but deep dip in form in Florida, also give great hope for the future. Varlamov is still young too, and, if he stays healthy, can be a great goalie. I haven’t seen anything of Holtby really, but his stats in the AHL are incredible – he’s 15-2-1 with a GAA of 1.82 and SV% of .935 – so he looks like he could be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later. So not only the present, but the future of the Caps’ goaltending, is looking very bright indeed.