The Washington Times - June 9, 2011, 03:15PM

Shortly after the Capitals were swept out of the playoffs that changes would come. And while coach Bruce Boudreau and general manager George McPhee aren’t going anywhere, goaltending coach Arturs Irbe won’t be back next season.

The team confirmed Thursday that Irbe will not return to the post he held for the past two years. A team spokesman said it was for “personal and family reasons.” Under Irbe’s watch this past season, the Caps had the fourth-best goals-against average in the league (2.33) and a .920 save percentage with Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby.


“A lot of credit has to go to Irbe for his ability to mentor and guide these guys,” said Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild. “He was absolutely instrumental to the Caps’ success in goal this year.”

Irbe was hired in August 2009 at least in part because the Latvian with NHL goaltending experience also speaks Russian. Coach Bruce Boudreau on multiple occasions has said he stays away from the goalies especially in the playoffs and lets Irbe do most of the communicating.

And Irbe’s faith in the young goaltenders – especially Neuvirth – never wavered.

“We believe in them and that’s why we kept them [going into last season],” Irbe told The Times in April. “We didn’t make any changes last summer – didn’t add anybody, just kept our kids and gave them the ball to run with it.”

With Holtby impressing in his limited action, Neuvirth and Varlamov each excelled when given the chance. Neuvirth could hardly be blamed for the Caps’ second-round exit, and Goldman said from afar Washington’s goaltenders developed drastically under Irbe.

“I saw goaltenders that improved technically but also showed a lot of confidence and a lot of mental toughness,” he said. “I have to think that Irbe was one of the best goalie coaches in the NHL last season.”

But Irbe won’t be the one who continues to foster Neuvirth’s development. Varlamov’s future is unclear, with speculation that the restricted free agent might want to go to Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. That could mean Holtby securing a solid spot with the Caps and another major task for Irbe’s replacement.

Some possible options could include ex-Senators goaltending coach Eli Wilson, now with the Syracuse Crunch, and ex-Flames goalie coaches Jamie McLennan and David Marcoux.

Wilson in particular could be a great fit according to Goldman because what he preaches is perfect for Neuvirth, who is clearly the Caps’ No. 1 goalie.

“He’s the kind of goalie coach that’s very progressive with the newest styles,” Goldman said, also calling Wilson “no-nonsense. “He’s all about simplifying the butterfly and playing in the calmest manner possible.”

Japers’ Rink, the popular Caps blog, was first to report Irbe’s departure.