The Washington Times - December 15, 2011, 01:09PM

Tomas Vokoun beats himself up over bad performances. He used words like “terrible” and “outrage” to describe his latest outing.

But Michal Neuvirth has actually been worse when considering the body of work this season. The 23-year-old Washington Capitals goaltender has a 3.73 goals-against average and .875 save percentage, the latter stat ranking him 44th in the NHL.


“It’s pretty tough season for us. It’s been a lot of changes around,” Neuvirth said Wednesday. “It’s been pretty tough, but I don’t want to make any excuses.”

Neuvirth stopped 11 of the 12 shots he faced in relief against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday – a performance that earned him the start for the Caps on Thursday night at the Winnipeg Jets.

“It’s pretty tough sitting on the bench for 40 minutes. I know it is what it is. I feel good,” Neuvirth said. “It was a tough bounce on that goal, but I think after that I shut them down pretty good.”

Neuvirth’s numbers have been pitiful this season and his play, admittedly, hasn’t been up to par either. So what’s the fix? According to goaltending expert Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild, its about Neuvirth getting more consistent playing time.

“If he were to get three or four starts in a row and if he loses one of those games, he doesn’t go right back to the bench,” Goldman said in a phone interview. “Say he comes out the next game he starts, he plays really well, gives up three goals and they lose – you still have to go back to him. You have to give him a chance to battle back and battle through some of the rhythm things that it takes.”

It’s a catch-22 because both Vokoun and Neuvirth thrive on getting consecutive starts. When Vokoun started seven straight games, he had a .940 save percentage.

Neuvirth has yet to start even three games in a row and has started consecutive games only twice. If he gets a chance to roll off a few good starts, who knows what the result could be.

“If he can get three or four games in a row and start to play better each game, well now he’s going to work through all those things, his confidence is going to rise and he’s going to become much more consistent,” Goldman said. “He could definitely take that job and run with it.”

For his part, Neuvirth followed Vokoun’s lead from a couple weeks ago in saying there’s no lack of confidence around the locker room.

“We’re working hard every day and I believe we’ve still got great team in here and I believe we can turn it around and we can start winning,” Neuvirth said.