Inactivity is the enemy of NHL goaltenders.
A goalie that faces little action during a particular game is said to be playing a "rocking chair" game. The implication is that such a goalie is in danger of being rocked to sleep by inactivity and therefore ill-prepared for the shots on goal he will inevitably face.
The same is true of goalies that do not see any game action at all. They will have trouble staying sharp if the only shots they face are coming off the sticks of their own teammates during practice or warm-ups.
The 25-year-old netminder has appeared in only eight games this season, compiling a 3-3-1 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.72 goals-against average in the process. His last start of the 2013 calendar year occurred way back on Nov. 22 against the Montreal Canadiens. Neuvirth allowed three goals on 31 shots in a 3-2 regulation loss.
This inactivity has not sat well with Neuvirth or his agent.
On Dec. 30, Patrik Stefan clearly stated his intentions for his client in a phone interview with Adam Vingan of NBCWashington.com. "Let me just put it this way. I want Michal out of Washington," he said.
Just over a week later on Jan. 7, Neuvirth himself told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post how he was coping with his lack of playing time:
I’m just trying to stay positive and be nice in the locker room. I don’t want to be negative around the guys. I don’t really bring work home so I’m pretending that it doesn’t bother me all the time, but it does bother me.
Neuvirth's exclusion from the Czech Republic's Olympic roster also bothered him, even if he saw the writing on the wall. Neuvirth told Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com on Dec. 21 that “they’re going to look at some goalies in the KHL,” referring to the Czech Republic's Olympic committee.
Sure enough, the Czech Republic chose two goalies from the KHL, Jakub Kovar and Alexander Salak. These two goaltenders are 25 and 27 years old, respectively. According to KHL.ru, they have played fewer combined games in their KHL careers (39 for Kovar and 29 for Salak) than Neuvirth has played in his NHL career (129). Ouch.
Even more embarrassing for Neuvirth is the fact that he is one of only four Czech goaltenders in the NHL and one of only two who is not a rookie this season.
However, he was left off in favor of two goalies who not only have never played a game in the NHL, but had never played a game in the KHL before this season.
Plus, the only NHL goaltender chosen by the Czech Republic was Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets. Pavelec is 103-118-32 in 267 games over seven NHL seasons, with a .906 save percentage and a 2.97 GAA.
By comparison, Neuvirth is 58-38-12 in 129 games over six seasons, with a .910 save percentage and a 2.66 GAA.
This season, Pavelec is 12-19-4 in 36 games with a .899 save percentage and a 3.08 GAA. Yes, Pavelec is a No. 1 goalie for his professional team this season while Neuvirth is a backup at best for his professional team, but Pavelec's pedestrian numbers only add to the insult for Neuvirth.
Now, with all the negative energy caused by his inconsistent action and Olympic snub, Neuvirth cannot possibly stay sharp whenever he returns to the net.
Or can he?
As a matter of fact, he can.
Neuvirth's first NHL start in exactly seven weeks came on Jan. 10 against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center. He faced 34 shots, stopping all but two of them as he led the Capitals to their second consecutive regulation win. Neuvirth earned the first star of the game for his efforts.
After the game, Neuvirth expressed his emotions regarding his first start in almost two months to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post:
I was nervous as [heck]. Couldn’t really sleep in the pregame nap, but first time I step on the ice for the warmup I was feeling pretty good and confident. I just told myself, ‘It’s just another game. You’ve been [here] for some time in this league.’ I was confident. It was unbelievable feeling.
But if Neuvirth's performance on Jan. 10 was any indication, he will absolutely be sharp in goal for the Washington Capitals the next time he gets the call to start.
Your guess is as good as mine as to when that will occur.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are updated through Jan. 14 and courtesy of NHL.com.
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