32 Shots/29 Saves, 4-3 Win in OT
There was plenty to like about Michal Neuvirth's performance last night, beginning with finding a way for he and the team to grind out a gritty and much-needed win. In the second period, especially, he had a couple of very nice moments. His breakaway save on Jim Slater just after Mike Greene's goal had been waved off was especially huge...Neuvirth challenged well, stood his ground, and though Slater's shot wasn't especially well placed he still forced Nuevirth to make the play, and Neuvirth did. That's a massive save in the middle of a hockey game, down a goal, momentum hanging in the balance. He also had a nice sequence late in the second where he made two nice stops on Niclas Bergfors, the second a one-timer with a pass coming left to right...He got over in plenty of time, and held onto the rebound after Bergfors hit him in the chest.
I was also really impressed with his reaction on the tying goal. He had no chance to make that play, but he fought through traffic to see the initial shot, stayed right with the puck once it was deflected, and extended to his left to at least get the glove close after Evander Kane knocked the puck out of mid-air. Replays were inconclusive, but i think he may have even gotten the slightest piece of the puck. It would have been the save of the season thus far.
Now, there were some things not to like as well. Most obviously, Neuvirth had huge difficulty controlling his rebounds on several shots from the right halfboards (his left side). Each chance was a little different, but they all went stick side, six to 18 inches off the ice, and the rebounds all went right into the slot. He got away with it once in the first period, but not the second time, and then coughed up a third bad rebound late in the game that almost led to the tying goal. The placement of the shots in question is admittedly tough.... stick side, just above the pad is the toughest save a goalie has to make. But at the very least he needs to find a way to keep that initial rebound on the same side of the ice it came from. If he's squared up to the initial shot and can keep that puck in front of him, even if the rebound is a little chunky he's still in position for the next shot. Conversely, he made a great play shorthanded in the second when he made a blocker save from the same area of the ice and punched the rebound hard right back up the slot... the difference was that he knew all three Atlanta forwards were down near the goal line, and the slot was actually a better place for the rebound than the corner would have been. The puck went straight to a Caps forward who had time to corral and clear down the ice.
There's one more rebound trend worth watching from Neuvirth. He needs to do a better job holding onto shots that hit him in the chest. It's a tougher save to control than shots that hit him in the gut, but it's still manageable. I've noticed a couple of times that he drops is hands down a little bit on wider angle shots...that makes sense from those tough angles because Neuvirth goes down on every shot and from that angle he doesn't need to worry about extending his arms left or right to make a save; he's more concerned that nothing gets through his body. He's basically daring a shooter to blow one right over his shoulder from a bad angle, which could happen but won't often. But when he drops his hands down and the puck hits him right in the emblem on his chest, he can't get his hands up in time to swallow the rebound and it spills out into a dangerous area. Hasn't cost him yet, but it might down the road a few times.
One point on the Thrashers second goal...When an opponent has the puck behind his net and makes a pass out front, Neuvirth has to do one of two things with his stick: either he has to break up the pass, or protect the five hole. On Kane's first goal, he did neither. It was a good pass out from behind to net but it looked to me like Neuvirth could have gotten his stick on it. And while the defenseman certainly could have done a better job tying up in front, Kane didn't get much wood on that shot and Neuvirth didn't get his stick back in time. Not a bad goal, really, but it's a play he can do better on.
Two smaller critiques: It's never a good sign if a goalie ends up on his butt during the play. It's happened to Neuvirth a handful of times in his last two starts, and is something to keep an eye on early in games to get a feel for how under control he's going to be that night. If he keeps ending up on his butt, it's a good bet he's over-committing and getting caught out of position. Secondly (and this is a big pet peeve of mine), watch how many times goalies stop a dump-in behind the net, and throw it around the boards to a waiting opposition winger rather than leave it for a defenseman who's under some pressure but not really in a full-on race for the puck. Neuvirth did it once in the first period and got away with it. Mason did it in the second and Semin made him pay.
Last point....I hate it when goalies flop. I think it's embarrassing. Byfuglien definitely got a piece of Neuvirth, but Neuvirth went down like he'd been shot, and stayed down. Byfuglien deserved two, not five plus a game misconduct. By contrast, Ovechkin should not have been whistled for interference on Mason in the third...that was not a penalty. But my feeling is that when Nuevirth flails around and then stays down holding his head and then hops back up as soon as he gets the call, it makes the refs feel duped and makes both the make-up trip on Laich and the interference call on Ovechkin that much easier to make.