As the 2011-12 season has come to a close, the time has come to evaluate what it meant for the Capitals, both as a team and as individuals. As such, as the summer progresses, I will be writing a report card, or individual evaluation, for each player who played in 9 (~10%) of the team's games, or 4 playoff games. Next up is goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who finished his fourth season in the Washington organization on this past campaign.
Season Summary: Ouch. After starting opening night against Carolina and picking up a win, Neuvirth got hurt soon after taking warmups in and did not play again until late October, at which point he was decidedly poor. He seemingly turned a corner around Christmas when he was given five straight starts, but in the Caps' first game after the holidays in Buffalo he had the worst start of his career, allowing three goals on six shots in just over 11 minutes. Down the stretch, Neuvirth improved slightly, but was also very bad for stretches, such as a string in mid-March where he gave up four or more goals in five of seven appearances. Despite all of this, however, he was in line to start in the playoffs because of an injury to Tomas Vokoun before he himself fell victim to a hip flexor strain on April 5th against the Panthers. Overall, he was 13-13-5 with a 2.83 GAA, .903 save percentage, and three shutouts in 38 games (30 starts). Grade: C-
Role Play: As a backup goalie, particularly one as young and good as Neuvirth, your job is to be able to help your team win and not let in soft goals regularly, neither of which Neuvirth was able to do on a regular basis. There was no consistency, and quite frankly, the only reason his numbers were not worse was because he shut out two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, Toronto and Montreal. He wasn't able to carry the load at times, which I expected from him. This was simply Neuvirth never finding his groove and falling victim to a sophomore slump. The result: a poor season. This wasn't the coaching staff's fault, either, for playing a better goalie than him (Vokoun) when he was healthy. They didn't "need to give him a chance." This is the NHL, where as a 24 year old, you earn your playing time. Mikey didn't. Grade: C-
Playoffs: Neuvirth was healthy enough to back up for the majority of the Caps' Braden Holtby-fueled postseason run, but never got in to the net because of the stellar play of his counterpart in the Washington nets. Grade: N/A
Future Potential: Despite his down 2011-12 campaign, Neuvirth's future remains very bright. Sometimes, sophomore slumps happen with goalies, and though it's frustrating, it's not the end. Neuvirth still has good positioning, strong technique, a fast glove, and is not afraid to challenge shooters. This, compared with the fact that Neuvirth is signed for one more year at $1.15 million before he reaches restricted free agency, means there is zero chance that he is traded this offseason unless it's for one of the top centers in the game. He is young, cheap, and has superior talent, trading him for anything less than an elite player would not only force an unproven goalie into a 60-game workload but it would also rob the Caps of their organizational depth at the goaltending position. Plus, with Neuvirth's talent, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he, and not Braden Holtby, is the starter in the future. He's that good. Grade: A
The next report card will feature defenseman Dmitry Orlov.
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