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Coach Dale Hunter explained his decision last week to go with Braden Holtby over Michal Neuvirth by taking a jab at Neuvirth’s performance.
“It’s one of those things where if he was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing? No,” he said Feb 14. “So it’s always judged on how you play.”
Yet Neuvirth was then and still is in a stretch where he’s “standing on his head.” Consider that since getting pulled in Buffalo on Dec. 26, Neuvirth has a 2.20 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
Friday night’s 30-save victory over the Montreal Canadiens was just another stellar game for the 23-year-old, whose play of late has been razor sharp.
“He stepped in in Carolina; we kind of hung him out to dry there. He stepped in in Ottawa and played fantastic,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “He did a great a job [Friday night] getting a start. He did everything we needed him to do and more.”
Against the Canadiens, just his third home start under Hunter, Neuvirth didn’t have to make a whole lot of spectacular saves. But with so much emphasis on the Caps needing “good goaltending” in Hunter’s words, Neuvirth was just that.
Neuvirth said he felt comfortable the whole game.
“He was solid. He was real solid,” Hunter said. “He didn’t give up many rebounds and I thought the D did a good job in front of him not giving them a lot of scoring chances, either.”
Neuvirth’s parents flew into town in time to watch him beat the Canadiens. He hadn’t even seen them yet by the time he addressed reporters after the victory but was happy to have that kind of big game with them in attendance.
“It’s always nice,” Neuvirth said. “And my dad was a goalie, so we’re going to talk about some things. It’s going to be good.”
Tomas Vokoun has established himself as the clear-cut starter, but Hunter’s criticism of the 35-year-old after the 5-2 loss in Ottawa on Wednesday night and Neuvirth’s performance Friday, it was a no-brainer that the kid got another start.
It is Neuvirth’s first starts on back-to-back days this season.
Asked Friday night about whether he’d start in Toronto, Neuvirth said, “I can’t answer this question.” He similarly didn’t want to answer about whether he could beat out Vokoun as the No. 1 goalie.
Neuvirth’s recent run has improved his stat line to 7-9-3 with a 2.91 GAA and .901 save percentage.
That Neuvirth has played great lately – and could be just on the cusp of an impressive run – is not surprising to Mathieu Perreault, who won two Calder Cups with him on the Hershey Bears.
“He’s always been good,” Perreault said. “Lately he’s been really good and that’s what we need to get in the playoffs.”