Friday, October 29, 2010

...So Many Miles From Home

I want to expand a point I made in yesterday's post, and in the process touch on the Caps', um, uninspiring loss last night in Minnesota. I'll preface this by saying it's obviously an easier point to make in hindsight...

I made a short plea yesterday to give Braden Holtby his first career start last night rather than Michal Neuvirth, who was coming off a dazzling 3-0 shutout. Bruce Boudreau went with Neuvirth. Which I understand, because it's the safe decision. Neuvirth's off to a terrific start in spite of some uneven play in front of him, and his effort Wednesday in Raleigh certainly warranted rewarding him with another start. And I know Washington played its most complete game of the young season against the Hurricanes, and BB can make the case for wanting to 1) reward Wednesday's excellent effort, and 2) keep building chemistry and consistency on a team beset by injury and inconsistency thus far. And I get that Neuvirth was all-world on the second night of back-to-back starts in the AHL. That's all well and good. But that awful performance last night against the Wild is exactly what I thought Boudreau might get, and could have avoided by starting Holtby.

Fans understand the unwritten rule that more often than not, the back-up goalie gets a start when a team plays on consecutive nights. Usually (but not always), he gets the second game. And the assumption is that it's done because it's a good excuse to rest your starter. Which is true. But it's not the only reason why it's done. Remember that the whole team is tired on the second night, not just the starting goaltender. More often than not you get 20 guys who are lethargic and out of sync, especially with back-to-back road games.

So now comes the dirty little secret: teams play better in front of their backup goalie. They play smarter, more responsibly. Have a greater sense of urgency. Exactly the sorts of ingredients that often go missing on night two of a back-to-back. On top of that, it would have been Holtby's first career me crazy, but I think the guys in the locker room are less likely to phone it in when their goaltender is making his NHL debut. What's more, the worst thing that happens is you lose (which you did anyway), and now you've got a rested starting goalie for the big Saturday Night Special in Calgary, still with a chance to get four points from a tricky little three game road trip (which was really the most you could realistically hope for anyway).

Yes, there is a case to the contrary. But I believe BB missed an opportunity last night to squeeze a little something extra out of his team. Now we know he got another nice performance out of Neuvirth, but that wasn't enough to steal a point and the Wild didn't exactly melt the ice with the way they played. Maybe that little something extra would have been the difference.

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