Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Crowded Nets

The obvious choice?
After the Capitals traded disgruntled goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday for two draft picks, it was thought by most, and stated by George McPhee, that Washington would roll with youngsters Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby in goal this year. The general consensus, it seemed, was that Neuvirth would have the top spot and Holtby would see about 25 games. However, with the news Saturday afternoon that the Capitals had signed free-agent goaltender Tomas Vokoun to a one-year, $1.5 million deal, the DC net instantly became crowded again, and the situation was once again became hard to predict.  I know it's early, but this is fun: who's going to play?

To many Caps fans, the answer may seem obvious: Michal Neuvirth.  The young Czech netminder had an outstanding rookie campaign last year, going 27-12-4 with a 2.45 GAA, .914 save percentage, and four shutouts in the regular season. He earned the starting nod in all nine playoff games, going 4-5-0 with a 2.34 GAA, .912 save percentage, and one shutout, certainly admirable numbers for someone his age.  He was Washington's most consistent goalie last year, and his performance basically forced Varlamov out of the District.  Alot of people, me included, think that he has not reached his full potential and is only going to get better.
Vokoun, on the other hand, won only 22 games last year, compiling a 2.55 GAA, .922 save percentage and six shutouts for the Florida Panthers.  Florida, for the ninth consecutive season, came nowhere near the playoffs and a then 34 year-old Vokoun missed significant time with a back injury.  Now, he is a year older at 35, and goalie is possibly the most physically demanding position in hockey. Plus, many believe that his best days are behind him.  So the choice is obvious: Neuvirth should be number one, right?
Um, no, not necessarily.
Look, Neuvirth is great.  As I said earlier, he was DC's best goalie last year and he is young, so he is only going to get better.  But Vokoun is really good; I might even use the word elite.  There is a good chance every night that he will steal the game for his team.  There is a reason he was expected to be one of the top money free agents this offseason, and to me it is absurd that a) there was no big-time interest in him and b) he settled for so little in Washington.  Since the lockout, Vokoun has never had a Save percentage below .919, a GAA over 2.68, or recorded fewer than four shutouts.  He has been a model of consistency on one of the worst teams in the league for the last six years, and I am not one who thinks Vokoun is even close to done.
Now, he gets a shot to work his magic behind what has become one of the better defensive teams in hockey.  Last year, the Panthers allowed 31.8 shots per game, 22nd in the NHL.  The Caps, on the other hand, allowed 29 per game, ninth in the league, and did it while both learning a new defensive system on the fly and only having the system in place for about four months.  Bruce Boudreau now has a full offseason and training camp with his roster to tweak and perfect the system, and the Capitals added two good penalty killing and defensive forwards in free agency.

Like I said before, this is not a knock on Neuvy, nor is this a call for him to watch the season from the bench.  But Tomas Vokoun would not have signed in Washington to sit on the bench.  Vokoun is the better and more established goaltender, and he has done more with less more so than arguably any other goalie in the league since his career began.  They will both play, but the new guy should play more.
Oh - and for what it's worth: the less Neuvy plays this year, the less money he can demand as an RFA next summer.  Just some food for thought.
But what do you think?  Let me know below.

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