The Capitals, after some slight early struggles, have stormed out of the gates and regained their position at the top of the Eastern Conference almost 20 games into this young 2010-11 season. One major factor behind the Capitals' continued success is the play of their freshman defenseman John Carlson and rookie goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.
Each came into the season with different expectations regarding how much they were each expected to contribute in Washington, and all three members of the Capitals' rookie trio have played key roles in the team's success thus far.
Carlson entered training camp as one of the most highly regarded defensemen in this year's rookie class, and a potential favorite for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. His play has been, although somewhat uneven at times, very good for a first year blueliner. He leads all rookie defensemen in points, assists and plus-minus, which are signs of good things to come for the Capitals' prized rookie.
Michael Neuvirth's status as the team's starting goaltender was far from a certainty at the beginning of the season, as Semyon Varlamov was widely assumed to be the front runner for the job. Since then, Varlamov has continued to be plagued by injuries, and Neuvirth has thrived in his absence.
With all due respect to Carlson, if there is a Calder favorite on the team, it has to be Neuvirth. He has been the team's best player on some nights and has posted an 11-3 record.
For the first time since Cristobal Huet left town in the summer of 2008, it appears Washington may have found a reliable starting netminder, which has been a worry for the organization since then.
While Neuvirth has been stellar, another rookie goalie has shined when called upon. Braden Holtby, who spent part of last season with South Carolina in the ECHL, has posted a 2-0-1 record and has looked good in the process.
He earned a 3-2 overtime win over Philadelphia in his first start and has put up a .911 save percentage—very impressive for a goalie who was supposed to spend the year in Hershey.
The solid play of Holtby and the emergence of Neuvirth gives the Capitals time to let Varlamov heal, and see what kind of performances he puts together when healthy.
The Capitals' lineup is dotted with talented young players, and it appears they have two more to add to that list. Carlson and Neuvirth have both exceeded expectations early, and Washington will need that to continue if they're to build on their fast start to the season.