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A Closer Look at Michal Neuvirth

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Five weeks ago we posted about who the Caps playoff goalie should be, opining that Semyon Varlamov deserved the nod as #1 starter based on the first 57 games. As of today, the question on whom the Caps Game 1 playoff starter still hasn't cleared up, but it's no longer Varlamov in the driver's seat. Rather, it's Michal Neuvirth, the Czech rookie who has received 55% of the team's minutes in net. Before we discuss Neuvirth in more detail let's look at the Caps goalie stats through Tuesday's Philadelphia game.

GAA MIN SV% AG EG Δ Goals Δ G/60
Braden Holtby 13 9
2 2 1.95
0.930 22 27.9 -5.9 -0.52
Semyon Varlamov 24 10 8 4
1377 0.923 52 61.6 -9.6 -0.42
Michal Neuvirth
44 24 11 4
2441 0.915 100 111.0 -11.0

AG - Actual Goals Against, EG - Expected Goals Against 

The Caps have undoubtedly received above-average goaltending this season, with the team's trio of young goaltenders preserving over 25 goals when compared to league-wide shooting percentages by distance. Surprisingly (to some of you, at least), it's Braden Holtby who has had the biggest impact on games, preserving 0.52 goals per game for his team. However, Holtby hasn't faced the stiffest competition. Plus, he may be a bit too green to throw into the cauldron of the Stanley Cup playoffs. So despite having the largest per-game impact as a goalie, Bruce Boudreau's spring plans for Holtby are to chase the Calder Cup, not Lord Stanley's.

Semyon Varlamov also has quality stats, sporting an above-average 0.923 save percentage and preserving an impressive 0.42 goals per game. However, his injury situation has kept him on the shelf for the past several weeks. Unless he comes back and regains full form immediately, it's unlikely to expect him to be named the Game 1 starter.

By default, we're left with Michal Neuvirth, a player whom large numbers of Caps Nation already consider the #1 starter. Although clearly third on the list in terms of statistical impressiveness, Neuvirth has had himself a fine rookie campaign, receiving a bulk of the team's starts and becoming the Caps all-time rookie leader in wins. Additionally, he boasts a very impressive playoff pedigree at lower levels that should help him better adjust to NHL playoff hockey. If the playoffs started today, the nod would most certainly go to Neuvirth.

The question is: can Neuvy lead the Caps to the promised land? The answer depends on which Neuvirth we see in the playoffs. Let's take a closer look at his stats, segmenting his season into three chunks.

Segment GP W
GAA MIN SV% AG EG Δ Goals Δ G/60
First 11 Games: Oct 8-Oct 30 11 7 3 0 2.14 566
0.929 20 25.4 -5.4 -0.57
Middle 23 Games: Nov 3-Feb 17 23 10 6 4
2.69 1316 0.903 59 55.8 +3.2 +0.14
Last 10 Games: Feb 21-Mar 22 10 6 3 0 2.22 494 0.926 21 29.8 -8.8 -1.07

As you can see, the early season Neuvirth and recent Neuvirth is an impact goalie, able to dominate games, post impressive save percentages and preserve goals. But the Neuvirth of the middle part of the season was pedestrian, sporting numbers expected from a back-up goalie. So who is the real Neuvirth? Is he a middling goalie that has played above his head during two hot streaks? Or is he a dominating goalie who simply went through through an extended mid-season slump? 

The answer is that it's too early in his career to know for certain. But if Neuvirth can channel the latter, the Caps will be poised to make a very deep run in this year's playoffs.

And if he can't, there's always Semyon Varlamov.