Washington Capitals Face Difficult Decision in Goal for Playoffs

Ryan DavenportContributor IMarch 27, 2011

Capitals' goalie Michal Neuvirth has set a team record for wins by a rookie.
Capitals' goalie Michal Neuvirth has set a team record for wins by a rookie.Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Since the beginning of March, the Washington Capitals have taken the NHL by storm by winning 13 of their last 15 games, solidifying their grasp on the top spot in the Southeast Division. Like many other successful teams in today's NHL, they've been winning with multiple goaltenders. However, unlike many other teams, they don't have a clear cut starting goalie entering the final six games of the regular season.  

The Capitals have the delicate issue of selecting which of their young goalies will begin the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the starter. Semyon Varlamov was once thought to be the logical choice, as he's basically been the starting goalie for each of the Capitals' last two playoff runs (or lack thereof), but his inability to stay healthy has forced head coach Bruce Boudreau to look elsewhere.  

If Varlamov has been considered the Caps' best goaltending prospect, Michal Neuvirth has been hot on his heels. Neuvirth has shouldered the weight of the load this season, breaking the team's rookie win record along the way.  

Neuvirth has proved himself at the AHL level, winning two Calder Cup championships with the Hershey Bears, but has had varying levels of success in the NHL. He's been dominant at times, but like the Capitals, has suffered through some lengthy slumps.

 The low point for Neuvirth this season was when he posted six straight losses in November and December, and his consistency generally hasn't been where it needs to be for him to be the consensus starting goalie.  

As if things weren't complicated enough, balancing two young goalies, the Capitals' crease has become even more crowded with the emergence of Braden Holtby.  

Holtby has been a revelation during his call-ups from Hershey this season, sporting a sparkling 10-2-2 record. He was named the NHL's first star of the week on March 13, and has played his way into the conversation regarding who should be Washington's starting goalie when the playoffs commence.  

Each of the three goalies has had moments where they've appeared to be poised to take the reigns as the starter, but none of them have been able to hold onto the top spot.  

Varlamov, after a memorable win at the Winter Classic, has only won four of the last 12 games he's played in. Neuvirth has generally been more consistent than Varlamov, but has inferior numbers as far as goals against average and save percentage. Holtby, the darkhorse candidate, has been the best goalie statistically, but would Washington really wager their playoff success on a rookie with 14 NHL games to his name?  

Whichever way Washington goes, they'll be relying on a relatively untested goalie. The good news is that all three of the goalies are better rested for the playoffs than most starters in the NHL. The bad news is that uncertainty between the pipes is usually a bad omen come playoff time.