With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. In this seven part series, the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.
Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.
PART VI: How would you rate the goalies this season?
DAVE: B. Along with the rest of the team, the goalies were pretty crummy the first couple of weeks of the season. They got better before the rest of the team did, and probably kept this team afloat until the offense found its footing.
Braden Holtby established himself as the No. 1 goalie on this team, taking the opportunity presented to him and running with it. He was dominant at times, and at times he showed that he was prone to mistake like any other young goalie. He has an almost cocky nonchalance with his glove hand that sometimes gets him in trouble, and his brash stick-handling is exceptional — except when it isn’t. When he makes a mistake there, as in Game 4 against the Rangers, it’s apt to blow up in his face. If he can learn better judgment on when to make the home run play with his stick, he’ll be a much more reliable No. 1. I’m willing to bet Dave Prior and Olie Kolzig get that out of him.
Michal Neuvirth is a solid backup and proved capable the couple of times he was called upon down the stretch. But Neuvy had a chance early in the season to wrest more playing time away from Holtby and he came up small. Though the Caps re-signed the young veteran to a friendly two-year deal, I wouldn’t mind seeing Neuvirth dealt as part of a package to get bigger up front and have the Caps bring in a veteran backup on a one-year deal.
Philipp Grubauer made his NHL debut and had another strong season in the minors. The goaltending position is still a position of strength for the Capitals.
ABRAM: 7/10. What was thought to be a positional battle coming into the season served as Braden Holtby’s star turn. The youngster spent the start of the season at the very bottom of the league in save %, but ended tied for 14th in the NHL with a .920 save %. Holtby also registered four shutouts and finished tied for 4th in wins with 23, a clear sign from head coach Adam Oates that Holtby is the team’s #1 goalie and Michal Neuvirth the second fiddle. Neuvirth’s .910 save % was consistent with his career totals, and while not good enough to rate him a starter, it’s more than good enough for a backup. Before Holtby blew it in Game 7 he recorded a .938 save % in the first six games of the Rangers series. That’s the sort of performance that should have merited a series win
KATIE: Most teams would kill to have young, talented goalie tandem such as Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby. Though it is clear Holtby is the number one guy, Neuvirth was solid whenever he got an opportunity to start. It would be unfair to judge either of them by the horrific start they both had early in the season, as that was as much a product of shoddy defense as bad goaltending. I still think Neuvirth, despite signing an extension this year will want to find a place where he can be the starting goalie instead of perpetually backing up someone else. He is certainly capable of it and deserves the opportunity. Holtby is without a doubt the teacher’s pet of the Capitals organization, and rightfully so. He also played the equivalent of a full season, between playing in Hershey during the lockout and starting in 35 of 48 games this season.
TED: B+. Braden Holtby was very good this season, and gave the Capitals a chance to win down the stretch, although fatigue seemed to set in after playing 68 games between Hershey and Washington – by far the most he’s played as a professional. Michal Neuvirth was good when he was healthy, but really wasn’t much of a factor for Washington. Phillip Grubauer was decent in his brief appearances, and likely will get a role in Washington within the next two seasons.
ADAM: Again, I find it hard to stamp a letter grade on such a broad position, but for the first time since Olaf Kolzig, the Capitals had a bona fide No. 1 goaltender in Braden Holtby, which I believe a franchise needs to succeed.
Holtby started about three-quarters of Washington’s game this season (72.9 percent to be exact, or 35/48), the most by a Capitals goaltender since Kolzig in 2003-04 (76.8%, 63/82). While Holtby certainly had his struggles — particularly at the beginning of the season — he once again strengthened his game down the stretch and gave the Capitals a chance to win almost every night.
As for Michal Neuvirth, he’s the backup goalie now regardless of what he or George McPhee says. I’ve grown partial to calling Neuvirth a victim of circumstance since he always seems to get hurt/sick/bad when he has a chance to wrangle the No. 1 spot away. Either way, the Capitals have a young (and cheap) goaltending tandem locked up that they can rely on.
HARRY: I give the goaltending a B-plus this season. Braden Holtby was not great early, but he, just like Michal Neuvirth, was a victim of the very poor team in front him during that time. Washington’s goaltenders both played very well when called upon past the ten-game mark of the season, and their play, particularly that of Holtby, down the stretch was critical to them making the playoffs. I thought Holtby was solid in the playoffs, too, with the exception of Asham’s goal in game seven, which cannot go in. The future of Washington goaltending is bright.