Friday, the biggest news coming from inside Kettler Capitals Iceplex was Michal Neuvirth earning the start for the Washington Capitals over Tomas Vokoun against the Carolina Hurricanes in Saturday’s home and season opener. The ensuing battles on Twitter over which goalie should start were even more intense than an actual battle between actual goalies. Yet, Neuvirth’s start should not surprise anyone and Express Caps Contributor Reed Albers explains why in this guest post.
During training camp, Washington Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t want to differentiate his two goaltenders into the roles “starter” and “back-up”. Instead, he called 35-year-old veteran Tomas Vokoun “Goalie 1” and sophomore netminder Michal Neuvirth “Goalie 1A”.
Friday afternoon, Vokoun was welcomed to the team the only way a Caps goaltender could be – he was benched in favor of Goalie 1A.
What the Kolzig is going on here?!
How could Boudreau bench a two-time all-star and proven 50-plus game goalie?! Did he not see that “NHL 12” clearly thinks Vokoun is the starter?!
Well, it actually makes a ton of sense and here’s why.
Perhaps Boudreau is pulling a “Moneyball” and listening to the stats. Against Carolina last season, Vokoun posted a sub-par 4.66 goals against average and .867 save percentage in three starts. Neuvirth’s 2.50 goals against average and .915 save percentage is far better, but then again you can’t blame Vokoun – he was playing behind the Florida Panthers’ defense.
We’ve learned during the Boudreau Era that stats alone don’t always churn out a line-up. While fans might bicker on Twitter over lines and goaltenders (even so much as joining #TeamNeuvy!), Boudreau has on several occasions started players on a hunch alone.
And that’s what this is. Neuvirth carried the goaltending load last season as a rookie admirably, was the team’s playoff goalie and until July 3, there was no argument who wore the pants in the pipes.
Then along came bargain bin Vokoun, a sexy free agent signing that fans thought only possible in their “NHL 11” franchise modes. But star power didn’t oust the younger Czech. Neuvirth’s preseason is enough to justify the start and Bruce himself said it when talking about Mathieu Perreault’s reason for landing on the team.
“If you want to make the preseason worth anything…you have to reward players who play well,” Boudreau said.
I’d even wager that if Neuvirth wins on Saturday, he sneaks into Monday’s line-up against the Tampa Bay Lightning (because Boudreau has never, ever, ridden a hot hand over a promise).
So welcome to the Caps, Tomas. Enjoy the rocking red arena full of 18,000 fans, the excitement of playing for a Stanley Cup contender and the free baseball hat. It might be on your head longer than you think.