NEWARK, N.J. — Sometimes it’s hard to forget about a goaltender’s night. A few big saves but a couple of goals, and there are bigger problems to worry about.
Nothing was bigger than Michal Neuvirth for the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the New Jersey Devils. When they were on their heels, Neuvirth kept them in the game by making one save with his blocker and then another with his glove.
When they completed a comeback to force overtime, Neuvirth just about killed off a penalty by himself. But when chaos ensued, there was nothing the young goalie could do when Ilya Kovalchuk fired away.
Neuvirth watched helplessly as the puck went in, handing the Caps a 3-2 overtime loss. They escaped with a point that was thanks in large part to Neuvirth.
“He really gave us a chance,” coach Adam Oates said. “And throughout the whole game, we got behind and we didn’t crumble today. It was great.”
That the Caps were able to tie the score late in the third period showed some fight that was noticeably lacking in the first three games.
“One thing we were talking about in the second intermission was ‘Stay with it,’ ” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We’ve got so down when we get scored against the last few games. We just wanted to make sure we still kept at it.”
Mike Ribeiro’s five-on-three, power-play goal and Mike Green’s tying goal would never have been significant, though, without Neuvirth’s exceptional performance. The 24-year-old finished with 32 saves on 35 shots, going save-for-save with future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.
“It wasn’t easy game, you know. I didn’t have a lot of work in the first period,” Neuvirth said “The only good scoring chance they had, they scored. But I battled hard and, after I made a couple of big saves, I settled down and played my game.”
Neuvirth made countless stops that could have led to demoralizing goals. Two in the second period stuck out.
The first came on a short-handed breakaway by Jacob Josefson, when he made a calm, blocker save. The second came on a glove-hand robbery of Marek Zidlicky not too long after.
Neuvirth keeping the Caps in the game didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“We really needed that one huge save he had in the second, that glove save,” Alzner said. “That could’ve put us on our heels really bad there. He did an amazing job for us. We definitely needed that.”
Meanwhile, skaters showed marked improvement. This wasn’t the same listless team that got hammered by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens.
Oates said he read Troy Brouwer’s comments calling the team’s performance “pathetic” and questioning the overall work ethic.
“I think tonight was an example of we did [work]. And it was great to see,” Oates said. “The first question was, we haven’t played for 60 minutes. Well, we did tonight. It was a lot of growing pains, if you will, but the guys did their job. You obviously want the win, but we did a lot of good things.”
The forecheck was stronger, even if discipline was still an issue and the power play was 1-for-8. Much is left to improve on, but Friday night illustrated progress.
“You’ve just got to play. You’ve got to play like you did tonight every night,” Oates said. “That’s what they got to learn, and they did it tonight so good for them.”
Neuvirth might have games the rest of the season better than Friday night. He criticized himself on the Devils’ first goal, saying he tried to remain patient.
But Neuvirth did enough to steal a point that the Caps desperately needed.
“Hats off to Neuvy, he played an outstanding game today,” right wing Joel Ward said. “It’s not easy when you’re facing those guys, especially multiple power plays and you have Kovalchuk shooting like that. Good for him. It’s a good confidence booster for sure. If he keeps rolling, that’d be great.”