Thursday, October 28, 2010

Game 9: @ Carolina

Michal Neuvirth
29 shots/29 saves, 3-0 win (1st career shutout)

Now that was a solid performance from Michal Neuvirth. Everyone is talking about the ridiculous glove save on Eric Staal in the second period (and it's a save worth fawning over), but it was a complete performance from start to finish.

What I liked:

-It was a solid first period on the road (for both he and the team), with some timely early saves including a good two shot flurry from in close off a face-off to his right. Washington scored the first goal, Neuvirth kept the 'Canes off the board, and the Caps we're in control after 20.

-Speaking of control, his rebounds were excellent. Anything he coughed back into the slot (including the first save on the aforementioned first period face-off flurry) came on chances where the original shot was particularly dangerous and the first save was excellent.

-The save of the night. No, not the glove save, although as I said it was highlight reel stuff. But his best save of the night came a few minutes earlier, when he absolutely flew post to post to keep out a Jeff Skinner wraparound and somehow managed to withstand the ensuing jabs and whacks as well. The play was reviewed but I never saw an angle that showed the puck in the net, which is amazing. However, he was really just cleaning up his own mess, having gone down too early, which leads me to...

Things to work on:

-Neuvirth is a butterfly goalie. He goes down on everything. Which is fine. But on that Skinner play, he went down when Skinner took the pass at the face-off dot to his left, popped right back up, then went down again once Skinner was past the goal line (anticipating a pass out front) but before Skinner had committed to the wraparound. It was a chaotic, late-developing play and those are always tough to manage, but he made even more trouble for himself by going down early. It may sound like halfhearted criticism, but I've seen him do this on similar plays at least once in each of his last three starts. And sure it's a detail, but it's a detail business...

-Additionally, I still don't love the decision-making when he handles the puck. He mishandled a dump late in the first that got Hendricks drilled behind the net, and turned it over unnecessarily early in the second, forcing himself into a tough deflection save before he was pushed into the net (bright side: great rebound control on that save). It should get better with time though.

All things considered, it was a terrific performance.

One final thought: Play Holtby tonight. I know Neuvirth can handle it and he was all-world on the second of back-to-back nights in the AHL and all Holtby. It's a trap game...the night after a big division road game, two days before a big Saturday HNIC game against a hot Flames team in Calgary. If you start the rookie, it'll keep the team focused and (presumably) disciplined instead of letting them look past tonight and lean on Neuvirth.

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