Monday, March 26, 2012

Two Goalies...One Game

Tuesday’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres is perhaps the biggest game of the season for each team. The importance of the game – the winner will break a standings points tie for eighth place and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with five games left to play – will place a lot of attention on the goaltenders.

For the Sabres, the decision is easy. Ryan Miller is a former Vezina Trophy winner who comes into this game 13-1-3 in his last 17 appearances with a 1.78 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage, and three shutouts.

For the Capitals, the decision is not nearly so cut-and-dried. Complicating the issue is the fact that number one goaltender Tomas Vokoun is still nursing an injury and appears highly unlikely to be ready for this game. Then there is the matter of the two goalies behind him on the depth chart who have been shouldering the load for much of this month. What is the case for and against each netminder?

Michal Neuvirth


-- Record of 3-1-1 lifetime against the Sabres.
-- Is 5-3-2, 2.60, .910, with one shutout over his last 12 appearances.
-- Is 5-1-0, 1.77, .939, with two shutouts against Northeast Division teams this season.
-- Is more likely to be the goalie not named “Vokoun” to be called upon to bear the workload in the playoffs; needs to get ready for that job.


-- Has allowed four or more goals in five of his last seven appearances (2-3-2, 3.07, ,891, one shutout)
-- Has a career 3.40 goals-against average against Buffalo with a .901 save percentage.
-- He has not played since the 4-3 loss to Winnipeg last Friday. With three or more days rest this season he is 4-7-3, 3.07, .901 (but he does have two shutouts).
-- In 11 appearances this season against playoff-eligible teams in the Eastern Conference, he is 1-5-3, 3.22, .884.

Braden Holtby


-- Has improved his performance in each of his four appearances this season, his save percentage by game going: .857, .909, .964, 1.000.
-- Of his four appearances, three of them were against teams that were playoff eligible when he faced them (San Jose currently out of the top-eight in the West), and while his overall mark against those teams is not remarkable (1-1-1, 2.93, .307), he did improve in each successive game.
-- In his short career over parts of two seasons he has faced playoff or playoff eligible teams 10 times. In those games he is 6-1-3, 2.12, .922, with one shutout.
-- In 18 career appearances he has allowed or was on pace to allow (if pulled) more than three goals only three times.


-- Looking at those ten playoff teams he has faced over the past two seasons, his home record is 3-1-1, 2.55, .911, considerably weaker than his performance on the road.
-- He has only those 18 career appearances over two seasons, not a big resume for a big game.
-- He has been inconsistent at Hershey this season; GAA by month: 2.99, 2.43, 2.36, 2.73, 2.60, 2.64; save percentage by month: .886, .892, .918, .915, .909, .891.

In the end, it really does get pretty simple. Both goalies have been given opportunities since Tomas Vokoun last appeared on March 16th. One is 2-0-1, the other is 0-1-1. One has improved with his successive performances, the other has seemed equal parts stuck in the mud and suffering a lack of support in front of him. One has done just about all he can do with the opportunities presented, despite his lack of experience. The other has looked as if he has regressed somewhat.

It is not an endorsement of who should be the Caps’ number one goalie going into the playoffs, because, well…they’re not in the playoffs yet, and a week is a lifetime in goaltending. But for this game, Braden Holtby should get the nod.