|Varly has done it in the NHL playoffs...but is he the answer?|
As you may or may not have noticed, the Capitals have an embarrassment of wealth at the goaltending position. All three of the Capitals' goalies who have played at the NHL level this season: Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, and Braden Holtby, are all under 23 years of age and are not even close to entering their primes. All three have made significant contributions with the Capitals this season and a case can potentially be made for any one of the three to get the call when Washington plays their first playoff game this April. So the question arises: who's it gonna be? Let's have ourselves a little look-see:
The case for Semyon Varlamov: Ever since Varly broke onto the scene in 2009 with his brilliant playoff series against the Rangers and solid (until game seven) playoff series against the Penguins, he has been a fan favorite in DC. And why not? The dude is unbelievably talented - he's big, his reflexes defy common sense, and he can recover almost as well as almost any goalie in the league. This season, he has had, without a doubt, the better statistical season, with a GAA better by a fifth of a goal and a Save% better by .09 (which is alot). The one drawback to these numbers is the fact that he has started 16 fewer games than Neuvirth. In addition, though Varly has had success with unreal play in the playoffs, he has, in fact, lost two playoff series in which he was ahead by 2 games. And this wouldn't be an analysis of Varlamov without the mention of his injuries: he has a lot of them.
The case for Michal Neuvirth: While Varlamov has been better statistically this year, no one can argue that Neuvirth has not been more reliable. Neuvy has been there since the beginning of the season when Varly was hurt and won many a game for his team. In addition, until his recent eye injury he had been a rock; his time on the sideline with that groin injury was more a product of a ridiculous run by Varlamov than anything else. He's won the most games this year, has the most shutouts, and has played the most minutes. And in terms of his game - he is a much more technical goalie than Varly is. Unlike the Russian, who relies on size and athleticism, Neuvy relies on timing and positioning, and that much more calming style tends to bring success in the playoffs. Oh, and he's won two consecutive Calder Cups at the AHL level. He wins.
The case for Braden Holtby: Until a week ago, Holtby wasn't even in this conversation, but after the ridiculous week he had that just earned him NHL first star of the week honors, he merits consideration for the moment. His stats speak for themselves: a 1.95 GAA, .931 Save%, and eight wins in 12 games played. There is no doubt that he has talent and scouts have said in the past when evaluating the goaltending in DC that he may end up being the best of the three. Despite this glowing prognosis, he is not ready for the playoffs. Let me say this: I love the kid, and I love what he's done for our team recently. But he simply is too young and inexperienced to carry the load for an entire postseason. He needs some seasoning in the AHL before he can be considered a contender for the full-time job with the Capitals.
The Verdict: My heart says Varlamov, but my head says Neuvirth. He has been there since the beginning of this season, and he has been the Capitals' most consistent goaltender all year long. His sound technical play reduces the risk of injury, and although his stats are not as good as the other two, they are still great for a 22 year-old. Put simply, I feel that he has earned the right to be considered the number one goalie. In addition, those two Calder Cups on his resume shine like diamonds in the night. Sure, it's the AHL, but it's still the playoffs. Mikey knows how to get it done in the clutch, and he's proven it so far in his career.
What do you think? Drop a comment below.