PITTSBURGH | Dale Hunter admitted was a hard choice, and his goaltenders’ recent play backs up that statement. The Washington Capitals coach went with Michal Neuvirth on Sunday at the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the 23-year-old validated that pick despite a 4-3 overtime loss.
Neuvirth stopped 23 of the 27 shots that Pittsburgh sent his way and could hardly be blamed for almost any of the goals against.
“He was good, he was solid,” Hunter said. “He was almost there and he obviously would have had the puck, likely, on that winning goal. But he was solid for us and gave us a chance to get a point.”
It was an auspicious start to Neuvirth’s afternoon. Kris Letang scored eight seconds into a power play, and James Neal scored off a faceoff 61 seconds later.
Neuvirth settled down and kept Pittsburgh off the board until a third-period goal by Neal that included John Carlson providing a screen on his own goaltender.
Neuvirth didn’t throw his teammates like Carlson and Roman Hamrlik (both on the ice for three of four goals against), instead praising the Penguins.
“I was having tough time finding the puck tonight. They did pretty good job,” he said. “I saw the second goal but it was a good shot by [Neal]. You’ve got to give him the credit. The third and the first, I was screened a little bit.”
And the fourth and final was a tough break. Neal’s shot deflected off Paul Martin and off the back boards right to Evgeni Malkin at the right side of the crease.
“It hit the boards and went right on his stick,” Neuvirth said. “It’s easy goal for him.”
Maybe not so easy. Hunter pointed out that it took really quick hands to hit the net before Neuvirth slid over.
“He’s elite player and to find that puck coming off the back boards and he’s so quick to get it in,” the coach said. “Neuvy was coming hard and he would’ve been there. Most guys would’ve took another second and he would’ve had it.”
In his most recent game before Sunday, he shut out the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre Wednesday. This OT loss dropped Neuvirth to 6-7-3 on the season with a 3.08 goals-against average and .893 save percentage.
“It’s a depressing loss, but it was a good battle,” he said. “We’ve got to take it from here and be there for the next game.”