COMMENTARY | Since being drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2006, Michal Neuvirth has never been in sole possession of the starting goaltender job. Neuvirth has been in two- or three-way battles to stand between the pipes for his entire career. He has been in a three-way battle with Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov. He has fought Tomas Vokoun. He has gone up directly against Varlamov and won the job, only to be brought back into a battle with Braden Holtby.
Now in his fifth season in the league, Neuvirth still finds himself competing for a job many other teams would have already given him. Holtby started in net for the Caps the first two games this season, including the home opener. Yet it was Neuvirth who made the big saves necessary for the Caps to earn their first point of the season in an overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils, and after years of fighting, he has earned the crease.
To say that the goal has been a revolving door for the Capitals since Olaf Kolzig left would be an understatement. Without Kolzig in the 2008-2009 season, the Caps used four different goaltenders: Theodore, Brent Johnson, Varlamov, and Neuvirth. In every year since, the Caps have used three different netminders, and only one name has been there every year: Michal Neuvirth.
In '08-'09, Neuvirth was a fill-in, called into his first NHL action due to injuries. The following season was a similar story, though Neuvirth's play turned what was supposed to be a battle between Varlamov and Theodore into a three-way competition. Tensions were high, culminating one practice when Theodore skated off the ice, slamming his stick against the boards. When asked about it, he said, "I just work here." That work ended when the Caps chose not to bring back Theodore, who signed with the Minnesota Wild on October 1, 2010.
The '10-'11 season was all about Varlamov vs. Neuvirth. Neuvirth won that eight-month showdown as well, earning 48 games played to Varlamov's 27 (Holtby made 14 appearances as well). Again, that season ended with the more experienced goalie filling out a change of address form, as Varlamov was traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
That should have been enough. Neuvirth had stood the test of every other goaltender who had played for the Caps since his debut. There were injury concerns and youth concerns, but that hadn't stopped him from chasing away the competition. That should have solidified his position between the pipes.
But it didn't. In 2011, the Caps brought in veteran Vokoun. Vokoun got 48 games to Neuvirth's 38. Holtby broke out toward the end of the season and got hot in the playoffs, again making the goaltending discussion between three names instead of two. As the season wore on, Vokoun's struggles continued to mount. The Capitals traded Vokoun to the Penguins last June, where he subsequently signed a two-year deal.
That brings us to 2013. Head coach Adam Oates decided to pick up where the goalies left off at the end of the Caps' playoff run last spring, which meant Holtby got the nod. Neuvirth is, again, in a battle for a job he has been working to win for five years. He has been the only goalie to prevail through every test the organization has given him.
Last night, he proved again why the job should be his. There is a reason he's never the goalie the team has shipped out. There is a reason he has sustained three different coaching regimes and countless goaltending changes. If this early play is any indication, now is the time to hand the reigns over to Neuvirth. He's no longer inexperienced, and he is ready to take over. It is time for him to get the job he has won time and time again. Give it to him.
Keara Dowd has spent years covering the Washington Capitals for multiple websites including The Hockey Writers and FanSided. She was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, where she still resides today. Follow her on Twitter @KGDowd.
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- Ice Hockey
- Washington Capitals
- Michal Neuvirth
- Tomas Vokoun
- Semyon Varlamov
- Jose Theodore
- Braden Holtby