Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
When the Washington Capitals traded Tomas Vokoun to the Pittsburgh Penguins, they created a much-anticipated situation in which Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby must duel for the role of starting goaltender. However, the NHL lockout has postponed that showdown for the time being.
How will the lockout affect the two netminders?
Both Neuvirth and Holtby have found a place to play hockey during the work stoppage. Neuvirth returned to his homeland to play for Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraliga. Holtby, on the other hand, will stay in America to play for the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears.
In an interview with iSport.blesk.cz, translated by Russian Machine Never Breaks, Neuvirth said, “I am really sure that I have the weakest competition,” referring to Holtby (CBS Sports also picked up on the story). Either Neuvirth is underestimating his fellow goaltender or is very confident in his abilities.
Neuvirth’s time with Sparta Praha might hurt that confidence, though. He’s a great goaltender, but he’s playing for one of the league’s worst teams. In 10 games this season, Neuvirth has only seen his team win one. He has a 3.52 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
Holtby is in a much better position to build confidence. After his stellar performance in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, playing in the AHL is somewhat of a downgrade. Even so, there are plenty of players with NHL experience that have been assigned to AHL teams that should be able to challenge Holtby.
Confidence could be the deciding factor in their battle over the crease. If Neuvirth’s confidence is shaken because of his team’s performance, Holtby could very well edge him out.
Neuvirth is in a better place to grow as a player, though. While there’s a great deal of talent in both the AHL and the Czech Extraliga, Neuvirth’s league might prove to be more challenging for a netminder. In addition, Neuvirth will have the chance to experience a different style of hockey with an entirely different lot of players.
That’s not a knock against the AHL. After three seasons with the Bears, Holtby has gotten about all he can from the league. It’s about time he steps up to the next level.
While playing for the Bears will pad Holtby’s confidence, he won’t develop as much as he would if he had pursued other options. Conversely, Neuvirth will likely become a better goaltender during the lockout, but his confidence may suffer due to his team’s abysmal performance.
Both Neuvirth and Holtby have something to gain and something to lose with each passing day of the lockout. They’ll have to wait until the lockout ends to step on NHL ice and show exactly how they were affected by the canceled games.