This season, Michal Neuvirth was a victim of circumstance.
On July 1, it seemed as if though Neuvirth was all but guaranteed the Washington Capitals’ starting goaltender position after the team traded Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche. Twenty-four hours later, however, the Caps signed Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth was relegated to backup duty.
Yet, due to a strong preseason, Neuvirth still earned the start in Washington’s season opener, but a heel injury suffered in practice after his first win of the season kept him out of action for three weeks.
An inconsistent season followed upon Neuvirth’s return; head coach Dale Hunter undermined his confidence and he was never able to get comfortable knowing that Vokoun and even Braden Holtby were lurking behind him, winning consecutive games only three times in 38 total appearances.
Yet, despite all of the aforementioned events, Neuvirth was still in line to lead the Caps into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Vokoun’s season ultimately over with a severe groin injury, Neuvirth was prepared to be Washington’s starting goaltender down the stretch, but once again, an injury against the Florida Panthers April 5 – revealed as a hip flexor – undercut his progress. Neuvirth never saw the ice again as Holtby took the starting goaltender position and ran with it to record-setting heights.
Neuvirth may have been a victim of circumstance, but he does not want anybody to feel sorry for him.
“[I had] a little bad luck, but these things happen,” Neuvirth said Monday as the team held their final meetings at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I can’t control these things. Now I just gotta have a good summer and be ready for training camp like I was last year.”
Neuvirth said Monday that while he was fighting through pain at the end of the regular season and the beginning of the postseason, he was healthy enough to compete before Washington’s season ended Saturday in a 2-1 Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Yet, Neuvirth understood that with Holtby playing so well, “there was no need to change anything.”
Neuvirth can relate to the position that Holtby was in during the postseason and will be in during training camp this fall. Last season, Neuvirth wrangled the starting job away from Varlamov, making all nine playoff starts for Washington. Neuvirth’s performance ultimately made Varlamov expendable and had Neuvirth on the fast track to the starting job this season until Vokoun arrived.
Neuvirth, however, does not plan to go quietly and is focused on competing for the Caps’ starting position next season, a challenge that Holtby welcomes.
“Neuvy had an unfortunate injury that caused this,” Holtby said. “It was nothing he could control. We as a young goaltending tandem, if we’re asked to play for the Capitals next year, our goal is do everything we can to win games as a group. Just because we play the same position doesn’t mean we’re any less teammates. We cheer each other on, whoever is playing. Whoever is doing the best job to win games, that’s who’s gonna play.”
Even though he and Holtby are working together, Neuvirth will not be satisfied playing second fiddle, let alone second-string. He knows what it takes to be a starting goalie in the NHL and is ready to earn another opportunity to reclaim that spot.
“The season’s pretty long,” he said, adding that being “ready for anything” is the biggest lesson he has learned during the early stages of his career. “You got 82 games and anything can happen. Look at [Holtby]. He was in Hershey the whole time and now he was starting goalie for us, so you never know. Like I said, gonna go home, work hard and be ready for training camp.”
“I can be the No. 1 in this league,” he continued. “It’s my goal. I’ll do whatever it takes to be the man.”