This won’t come as a surprise to Caps fans or to his teammates, but Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth
has been named the NHL’s rookie of the month for October. Neuvirth is the first cap to earn the honor since Nicklas Backstrom
in Dec. 2007 and he joins Bob Mason (Dec. 1984) and Jim Carey (March 1995) as the third Washington goaltender with that distinction.
After leading the AHL Hershey Bears to consecutive Calder Cup titles in 2009 and 2010, Neuvirth cracked the Caps’ opning night roster for the first time this season. Expected to split time with fellow 2006 draftee Semyon Varlamov, Neuvirth has gotten the lion’s share of playing time in the Washington nets because of Varlamov’s nagging groin injury.
“He’s won two championships,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Neuvirth, “so he’s been in situations like this. But his calmness and his demeanor and the fact that he doesn’t get too excited about anything, you knew he was going to be a good goalie.”
In his AHL playoff career, Neuvirth is 30-10 with five shutouts, a 1.98 GAA and a .927 save pct.
Neuvirth started 10 of Washington’s 11 games in October, running up a 7-3 record. He is tied with the Kings’ Jonathan Quick for the league lead in victories. He has a 2.15 GAA and a .926 save pct. to rank eighth in the league in both categories.
Washington has permitted the game’s first goal in eight of their 11 games this season, but Neuvirth’s excellent netminding has enabled the Caps to post a 5-3 record in those games. He has done a great job of keeping games close until his teammates can get going at the other end of the ice.
The 22-year-old native of the Czech Republic has also been particularly stingy in the rebound department.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of time he makes saves that you wouldn’t expect him to make, that in the end turn out to be huge,” says Washington blueliner Karl Alzner
, a teammate of Neuvirth’s on the Hershey clubs that won consecutive Calder Cups. “For instance, we’ve seen all these big glove saves or he’s pushing across to make a good kick save. That’s always huge for us. And at the same time, he holds his rebounds pretty good. He’s pretty good at controlling the puck. Whenever he wants it to go, it goes. For defensemen, that’s great. That way we don’t get any forwards sneaking in and poking in pucks that are lying in the crease. He’s doing pretty much everything right and we hope that he keeps going.”
“It’s always nice to stop the first shot and not leave a rebound,” says Neuvirth. “But if there is a rebound, you have to make sure you’re there. Your defense, they’re trying to help you. But I’ve got to make sure I’m not leaving rebounds.
Neuvirth has played 558 minutes and 34 seconds in the Washington goal this season. He ranks sixth in the NHL in that department and features a better GAA and save pct. than all five goaltenders ahead of him. Among the few that have logged more time in goal than Neuvirth this season are Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco and Ryan Miller.
In eight of his last nine starts, Neuvirth has allowed two or fewer goals. Atlanta is the only team to score more than two goals against him this season; they dented him for four goals on opening night in Atlanta and three on Oct. 23 at Verizon Center. It took a goal in the final minute of regulation in the Oct. 23 game to give the Thrashers three in that contest.
On many of the goals that have beaten him, the puck has been deflected in front and Neuvirth has had little chance of making a stop. Generally speaking, if he sees it – or finds it – he stops it.
“If he doesn’t see the puck and it comes through – maybe it gets blocked or if somehow it ends up in front of him – he finds it real quick,” says Alzner. “So his reaction in that sense is phenomenal. Those are sometimes the most dangerous ones, the second and third chances. Sometimes when us defensemen don’t know where the puck is, it’s hard to know which guy to take. He always seems to figure out where the puck is before anyone else can. I don’t know how he does it.”
Neuvirth has been especially stingy in the third period this season, allowing just three goals in the final frame. He has also played better on the road where he has a 2.00 GAA and a .931 save pct. than he has at home (2.32 and .921).
“He’s an unbelievable goalie, I think,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson
, who has also played on consecutive Calder Cup clubs with Neuvirth. “He’s proven himself. We all know his ability here. He’s so calm and so collected. He never gets too rattled. I think some goalies they get scored on and they get flustered. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t get flustered and stays focused for 60 minutes every night. You can’t ask much more out of your goalie than that.”
In 33 career NHL games (29 starts), Neuvirth is now 18-8 with a shutout, a 2.58 GAA and a .915 save pct.
“He was maybe under the radar for some people coming into camp this year,” says Laich. “A lot of the talk was about Varly, and he was unofficially anointed the No. 1 guy coming into the season. But Neuvy’s worked hard and got the job done. We’ll continue to ride that wave as long as we can.”