As the Washington Capitals persevered through an up-and-down 2010-11 season, they did so on the shoulders of three different goaltenders. Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby each played well for short periods of time, but none of the three were able to separate themselves from the pack. With Holtby’s recent demotion to Hershey, coach Bruce Boudreau is left with a critical decision: which goalie to start for game one on Wednesday night?
Until this season, Varlamov has been considered the Capitals’ goalie of the future. He lead Washington to the second round of the 2009 playoffs, after outplaying Henrik Lundvquist in the Caps’ seven-game series win against the Rangers in the opening round. However, he stumbled late in the series against Montreal last year, and has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency for much of this season.
In Varlamov’s absence, Michal Neuvirth assumed the role of starting goalie for the majority of this year, posting a very respectable 27-12-4 record. While Neuvirth has been more consistent than Varlamov, ‘Varly is probably the flashier of the two, and appears to be more capable of stealing a game on his own.
Another important consideration to take into account is the fact that Neuvirth has played lights-out hockey for the past two AHL Playoffs, leading Hershey to two consecutive Calder Cups. He appears to be much more stable and even-keeled than Varlamov, whose had uneven performances over the last two NHL playoffs.
If this discussion was being had at the beginning of the season, Varlamov would almost undoubtedly be getting the tap on the shoulder for game one, but his season has been a virtual roller-coaster ride since then. After getting shelled, along with Neuvirth, during the Capitals mid-season eight game losing streak, Varlamov got the opportunity to start for Washington at the Winter Classic. He thrived under the bright lights of Heinz Field, leading the Caps to a spirited 3-1 victory over their bitter rivals in Pittsburgh.
However, since that time, Neuvirth has been the go-to goalie for Washington. He set a record for wins by a Capitals rookie last month, and appears poised to grab the reigns as the playoff starter for Boudreau and co. Reports out of Washington say that Neuvirth will be starting game one, which is the logical choice according to most analysts. While Neuvirth will start game one, Bruce Boudreau has shown in each of the last two playoffs that he’s not afraid to give a goalie the hook if they don’t give the team a sufficient chance to win.