From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2011-12 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2012-13. Next up, Michal Neuvirth.
#30 / Goalie / Washington Capitals
Mar 23, 1988
$1.15M in 2011-12 and 2012-13;
Key Stat: Neuvirth's 0.903 save percentage was good for 36th in the NHL.
Interesting Stat: Neuvirth was the only Caps goaltender with a positive shots differential, as the Caps outshot opponents by 1.0 shots per 60 with him on the ice. Teammates Tomas Vokoun and Braden Holtby finished at negative-3.3 and negative-6.1, respectively.
The Good:This was a hard-luck season for Neuvy. He started strongly, earning a surprising opening night start over Vokoun (a 3-2 win over Carolina) before injuring his foot and being relegated to backup duty. Towards the latter end of the season, as he was playing his way back into top form, he was benched by Dale Hunter. Then, right before the playoffs, he was injured (hip) in a collision with former teammate Marco Sturm, losing the starter's moniker that Vokoun had vacated due to a season-ending injury. How did Neuvy handle it? Despite one episode which he voiced his displeasure with Hunter ("when I showed up, I found out I’m not playing. It’s tough to swallow"), he did not become a permanent locker room distraction.
Additionally, although his season was up and down, he finished the campaign on a slight upswing, going 7-5-2 in his last 14 games, which helped push the Caps into playoff position. Considering the way the team played throughout the season, a 57% points percentage during the stretch run wasn't bad.
Finally, it's hard not to notice that the team produces a better shot differential with Neuvy on the ice. It also defies logic. Neuvy is not known for his stickhandling or his rebound control, but somehow the ice is less tilted with him playing. The team produces more shots for and fewer shots against. Perhaps they trust him more than the other Caps goalies and feel more comfortable opening up the game? More likely, it's just a coincidence, but one that might bear watching.
The Bad: Following 2010-11, Neuvy likely painted himself as the team's starting goaltender. And why not? He received the bulk of starts in the regular season and backstopped the team during its 9-game playoff run. But free agency opened up and Tomas Vokoun was signed, bumping Neuvy to #2. Then, just as it appeared he was on the verge of assuming the goaltending reins following a recurring groin injury to Vokoun, Neuvirth was injured again, didn't play a minute in the playoffs and opened the door for an upstart Holtby to take his place in the line-up. Following a season in which he played in 67 games, Neuvirth only ended up with 38 on his resume this year. Making matters worse was that it took him until late February to record consecutive wins.
Many will argue that Braden Holtby has, or is on the verge of, passing him on the organizational depth chart. While that remians to be seen, Neuvy's stats this past year weren't really helpful to his cause. Among goaltenders, he ranked 34th in minutes played, 36th in GAA and 36th in what is likely the most important stat, save percentage. None of those rankings are impressive, especially considering that many of those minutes came under Dale Hunter's defense-first system.
The save percentage is especially worrisome for a player who fancies himself an NHL-starting goaltender. A .909 total SV% - and a 0.912 even strength SV%, good for 59th in the NHL - is below average for an NHL starting goalie and, frankly, screams "backup goaltender". And Dale Hunter noticed.
While Neuvirth is still a blossoming 24-year old, this coming season is key to determining if he can break into the top tier of goaltenders or if he's going to be classified as someone who can eat minutes, but is not quite good enough to lead a team to the promised land. His 0.909 career SV% isn't helping his cause.
The Vote: Rate Neuvirth below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Where is Neuvirth on the organization depth chart? Does he have the capability to lead the Caps (or any team) to a Stanley Cup? What would it take for Neuvirth to earn a 10 next season?