While everyone in Washington D.C. fell in love with Braden Holtby after his performance in the 2012 playoffs, one man did not seem overly impressed.
While Caps' fans believed that the team had captured their own version of Jonathan Quick in Holtby, one man sat back and wanted his own chance to remind Caps' fans, and the rest of the NHL, that he was pretty good in his own right.
That man was Michal Neuvirth.
Neuvirth's story was a somewhat sad one. Most Caps' fans will recall that Neuvirth had a very impressive playoff run of his own for the Caps during the 2011 playoffs.
Neuvirth was absolutely magnificent during the Caps 4-1 series win over the New York Rangers in the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
He then, like the rest of the team, came up rather small in the Eastern Conference semifinals as the Caps were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Still, over that nine game stretch, Neuvirth had a 2.34 goals against average and a .912 save percentage (ESPN). He also had a shutout, something Holtby did not do during his own stellar 14 game playoff run last season.
Last season, Neuvirth played in a backup role to Tomas Vokoun. He played in 38 games and had a 13-13-5 record (ESPN). He had a 2.82 goals against average and a .903 save percentage with three shutouts.
As the playoffs approached, and with Vokoun dealing with an injury, it seemed as though the Caps would have to lean heavily on Neuvirth once again if the team was going to have any chance at winning that elusive Stanley Cup.
But, as well know, Neuvirth was injured as well, Braden Holtby got the start in net and the rest is history.
Nevertheless, there are several places where Michal Neuvirth has some advantages over Braden Holtby.
One area is experience. Heading into this season, Neuvirth had played in 108 regular season games so he had much more experience than Holtby, who had only played in 21 regular season games. During those 108 games, Neuvirth had a 2.65 goals against average so his numbers were not nearly as impressive as Holtby's.
His .909 save percentage in regular season games was also not as good as Holtby's but, then again, Neuvirth had played in many more regular season games than Holtby so that had to be taken into context.
That Neuvirth was not buying into all the hype surrounding Braden Holtby was made clear during the summer when Neuvirth made some rather unflattering comments about the Caps' presumed new superstar goaltender.
Over the summer, Czech website iSport.cz conducted an interview with Neuvirth.
The interview was translated by several sites, and one in particular, Russianmachineneverbreaks.com, posted the interview.
Some of what Neuvirth had to say raised more than a few eyebrows:
It’s true that until now, I have never been an official number one. But I have played just over a hundred games in NHL. That’s nothing. I’m starting the season sure that I want to play forty/fifty games and I am really sure that I have the weakest competition (Braden Holtby) I’ve ever had. I will try to be number one goalie this season. Finally!
Wow! What else can you say.
But when Braden Holtby struggled in the first two games of the 2013 season, coach Adam Oates turned to Michal Neuvirth in what, to a certain extent, seemed to be a "put-up or shut-up" moment.
The first game did not go well as the Caps were routed by the Montreal Canadiens (ESPN), on home ice, 4-1. Neuvirth gave up four goals on just 22 shots for a .818 save percentage. He did, however, make some key stops that prevented the final score from being uglier than it was.
But the next game against the New Jersey Devils was a much stronger effort from Neuvirth. The Caps rallied from two goals down in the third period to tie the game at 2-2 before ultimately losing in overtime (ESPN).
Neuvirth played incredibly well against the Devils as he stopped 32 of 35 shots for a .914 save percentage. In overtime, he was nothing short of spectacular as he stopped seven of eight shots and made some tremendous saves up until Ilya Kovalchuk's game winner, a shot that would have beaten most NHL goaltenders.
And then, on Sunday, Oates rode the hot hand and played Neuvirth against the Buffalo Sabres. Neuvirth responded by leading the Caps to their first win of the season, 3-2 over the Sabres (ESPN).
Neuvirth played well again stopping 22 of the 24 shots he faced for a .917 save percentage.
So, for the 2013 season thus far, Michal Neuvirth has a 1-1-1 record, with a 2.92 goals-against- average and a .889 save percentage.
The play of Michal Neuvirth the past couple of games had made this debate much more interesting—particularly when one considers that there was no real debate at all when the season began.