It’s likely that the Capitals’ goaltending saga is, oh, not even close to over. There are eight games left in the regular season and what the team hopes are many more in the playoffs. The status hasn’t changed much: Michal Neuvirth is rolling along while Semyon Varlamov is set to return soon from a knee injury.
But has coach Bruce Boudreau’s mind changed at all on who’s getting the nod when the playoffs start? Let’s take a look at what he said Wednesday on the subject of making a decision and compare that to some words from March 13.
“In the end I won’t make the decision; they’ll make the decision by their play,” Boudreau said Wednesday. “[Eight] games left and it’s probably gonna be a 5-3 or a 4-4 equalization [between Neuvirth and Varlamov]. I think they’re both very good young goalies and either one that we put in succeeds or has done well. So I’m not really worried as much as everybody else in the world is, or my little world anyway, about who’s gonna be our starting goalie for the playoffs.”
The coach was then asked if we (as in those of use in the media) were making too big a deal of the goalie question – is it one of those things where whoever starts the first game doesn’t matter?
“I think if you look at the way the season and their careers have gone that neither one has played 20 games in a row, that you’re probably looking more at winning by committee than anything else. If one goalie gets extremely hot, you’re not gonna take him out of the lineup. In our situation here we’ve seen I think five in a row being the maximum that either one has played all year. I think we’re coming close to that with Neuvy.”
Actually, it’s six, but Boudreau has a point: Injuries have ensured that neither young goaltender has gotten a chance to go on a significant run of consecutive starts.
Judge for yourself what Boudreau means by that answer – whether it’s him being open-minded to a two-goalie system as some coaches have used to win the Stanley Cup, or is he’s throwing up a smokescreen.
But here’s what he had to say March 13 about picking a starter in net for the playoffs:
“I’d like to get it down to the last seven or eight games. And we’ve given the goalies the opportunity that, ‘It’s yours, run with it.’ But then they get hurt and somebody else steps in and they run with it. That’s wherein lies making a difficult decision.”
When a reporter asked about last season’s process of waiting until very late to name his starting goalie for the playoffs, the Caps’ coach said: “We all knew who was gonna be the starting goalie; we just didn’t wanna tell you.”
Is that the case this season? To the naked eye it looks like Neuvirth is the favorite, judging by not only the number of games he has played this year but his recent performance. The now 23-year-old Czech (his birthday was Wednesday) concedes, however, that it’s Varlamov’s job to lose.
Varlamov told Sovietsky Sport, a Russian sports media outlet, that despite the “weird” things going on with him injury-wise, he has recovered from his knee problem and was told by Boudreau he’d get a chance to at least prove himself.
That likely will come with a start either Friday night at Ottawa or Saturday night at Montreal. Then everyone will get to see the goalie drama unfold on the ice rather than in front of recorders and cameras. The Caps announced through their official website reporter that Neuvirth will start vs. the Senators and Varlamov vs. the Canadiens.