After being snubbed by the Czech Republic Olympic Team and sitting on the sidelines for the last month and a half, one could not have blamed Michal Neuvirth for being a bit grumpy when he returned to the ice for the Washington Capitals. During the goaltender’s stay on the bench, Philipp Grubauer became the undoubted No. 1 starter, Braden Holtby looked to be the entrenched backup and Neuvirth repeatedly saw trade demands go nowhere.
But when Neuvirth received a chance to return to the ice on Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was nothing short of brilliant. Throughout the night the 25-year-old looked calm and collected, stopping 32 out of 34 shots as the Capitals won 3-2. To say that the label of No. 1 star was justified after the victory would be an understatement.
Whether it was an attempt to look good for opposing general managers or simply out of respect for his teammates, Neuvirth showed that the stint on the bench did nothing to stop him — in fact far from it. Repeatedly he showed a great glove hand, exceptional side to side movement and in total looked like the type of guy that can start for nearly any team in the NHL.
For the Capitals, this will surely not change anything when it comes to Grubauer and Holtby being the top two guys going forward, but it will not hurt when it comes to finding a suitor for Neuvirth. Teams around the league will now know that he is not only a supremely talented guy but one who is mentally tough enough to fight through tough situations and come out with his guns firing. When teams look for a starting goaltender they want someone who is going to battle through the good and bad, and the Czech goaltender has been the emblem of that mantra this season.
In terms of actual value, it can be assured that Washington general manager George McPhee will go from asking for a late round draft pick in 2014 to a second or possibly even first round pick. After all, Neuvirth is 25-years-old, has a career 58-38-12 record with a 2.66 GAA and has been a starter for a Capitals team that perennially ranks amongst the best in the NHL; and starting goaltenders do not come cheaply.
If Friday night’s performance was any indication, the goaltender not only can, but will be a starter in the NHL for the foreseeable future, and it is a wonder why teams would not be lining up for his services. Clearly this starting opportunity is not going to come in Washington, and for the sake of the team’s locker room, Neuvirth’s recent performance must be turned into a trade — and the sooner the better.