Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Road Apples

My college coach used to say that every goalie who gets a road start has one job: do not give the game away in the first 10 minutes. Home teams come out fired up... they win races to loose pucks, they forecheck with abandon, they jump on anything remotely resembling a fat rebound. Just something to keep in mind when considering three things to watch as Michal Neuvirth gets his eighth start in the nine games and the Caps begin a three game road trip.

1) Watch out for the aforementioned slow start. In seven starts, Neuvirth has surrendered the game's first goal five times; he's given up eight first period goals and only has one scoreless first period on the season. It's hard to play from behind, and it's hard to win on the road; trying to do both is a bad idea.

2) See how well (or not well) Neuvirth is able to control the pace of play. Washington is banged up, especially along the blue line, and you can bet Hartford Carolina will try to wear them down tonight...the Whale Hurricanes have very good team speed, but don't be surprised if they dump and chase more than people expect as an excuse to get physical with the Caps' defensemen. Neuvirth needs to do a good job handling dump-ins and keeping his D out of trouble when he can. Furthermore, while Washington's centers haven't been gangbusters winning face-offs, Carolina has been historically bad thus far. Neuvirth should freeze the puck every chance he gets to slow down the game and keep his players fresh.

3) Despite his great start to the season, Neuvirth could use a solid showing tonight. His last two starts have been decidedly average, with rebound control, over-commitment, and untimely goals all being somewhat troubling. I certainly don't mean to take anything away from his performance to date, and i think the Caps (and their fans) should be very pleased with his overall play so far. But with Varlamov still injured, the team having to play the second of back-to-back road games tomorrow in Minnesota (plus a third tough road game Saturday in Calgary), and a back-up who's never played a minute of regular season hockey at this level, don't be surprised if a soft game tonight raises questions about Washington's goaltending all over again.

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