From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2010-11 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2011-12. Next up, Michal Neuvirth.
#30 / Goalie / Washington Capitals
Mar 23, 1988
$821,667 cap hit in 2010-11; $1.15M in 2011-12
Key Stat: Neuvirth compiled a 0.929 save percentage in his first 11 games, carrying the Capitals through the first month of the season.
Interesting Stat: Neuvirth's overall 0.914 save percentage was identical to his save percentage from 2009-10.
The Good: In October 1997, an untimely and fluky injury to Caps goaltender Bill Ranford opened the door for a young goalie named Olaf Kolzig to grab the reins as Washington's starting goaltender. Eleven years would go by before Olie the Goalie gave up the starter's job. Michal Neuvirth entered this season in a similar plight, seemingly second in line to a wonderfully talented Semyon Varlamov, a goalie who had led the Caps in playoff starts the previous two seasons. But a pre-season injury to Varlamov opened the door for Neuvirth to start opening night in Atlanta, allowing the young Czech goaltender to grab the reins as the #1 netminder, a role he would not relinquish throughout the entire 2010-11 season. Six months after the Atlanta game, Neuvy had earned a bulk of the starts, gained the trust of his head coach, and was the overwhelming choice within the fanbase to start in the playoffs. He went on to start all nine playoff games for the Caps this spring.
He may or may not replicate Kolzig's career, but what Neuvirth did in his first full year of NHL play was still impressive. He took on a starter's workload, playing 57 total games in 2010-11. He fought back from an injury in the middle of the season to keep his starting role from a hard-charging Semyon Varlamov. He posted four shutouts, tying the franchise mark for rookies set by Jim Carey, and his 27 wins ranked third among all rookie goaltenders, likely earning him a few votes in the Calder Trophy voting.
Neuvirth also diplayed mental toughness throughout the year, battling back from multiple injuries, never posting back-to-back regular season games where he allowed more than three goals, and playing through adversity, including playing one period with a piece of his cage stuck in his eye. He was described by his coach as having "ice in his veins", one of the main reasons he earned the starting nod in the playoffs.
Finally, his play in the beginning of the season should not be overlooked. He started the season on fire, earning rookie of the month honors in October and propelling the Caps to a torrid start to the season; he ended the regular season in similar fashion, posting gaudy numbers in his last 10 games to close out the Caps impressive run to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Across those two runs - which spanned 21 games total - Neuvy posted a marvelous 0.928 save percentage.
The Bad: Of course, to have two extended runs of great play means that there was a low point too. Neuvy's numbers during his 23-game mid-season lull were pedestrian, as he put up a 0.903 save percentage and a 2.69 GAA . The streakiness continued in the playoffs. He followed up his stellar 0.946 SV%/1.21 GAA in the Rangers series with an ugly 0.867/3.74 performance against the Lightning. Goaltending consistency is key to success in the playoffs, and the Caps didn't get that from Neuvy.
And although Neuvy should be cut somewhat of a break for being a rookie, his overall goaltending stats in the regular season were unremarkable. For goalies with a minimum 20 games played, he finished eighth in save percentage among rookies and 27th overall. His even strength save percentage of 0.922 placed him 26th overall and his penalty killing save percentage of 0.885 placed him 19th overall. On many teams those are borderline back-up numbers. Even his 2.45 GAA was deceptive. On paper it looks like a 12% improvement over last year's 2.75 GAA, but in reality, he faced 28.6 shots per 60, a decrease of 12% over last year's rate of 31.9 shots per 60. Ultimately, Neuvirth performed at exactly the same level as he did last season, with the improvement in his GAA being directly tied to the Caps improvement on defense and ability to suppress shots.
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: Considering the Caps improvement in team defense, should Michal Neuvirth's numbers have been better this year? Does Michal Neuvirth go into the 2011-12 campaign as the team's starting goaltender, or should it be an open competition between Neuvirth, Varlamov and potentially Braden Holtby? Does Michal Neuvirth have a higher upside than what he's shown the Caps in the first 70 games of his career? What would it take for Neuvirth to earn a 10 next season?