Monday, February 09, 2009

Neuvirth's Rise

For the first time in a long time the Washington Capitals have some significant depth at goaltender. With the Caps' farm system entrenched with prospects Simeon Varlamov, Daren Machesney and Michal Neuvirth, not all of them could play for the Caps farm team in Hershey when the '08 - '09 season started.

Michal Neuvirth was a second round pick for the Capitals in 2006. A year later he was signed to an entry level three year contract which put the prospect goaltender into the Capitals' system. But with so many goaltenders and only so many spots the Capitals had to find what to do with him.

Both Varlamov and Machesney out played Neuvirth to take the two spots in the AHL forcing the prospect to play in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays. GM George McPhee had considered loaning the goaltender across the pond, but a deal just couldn't be worked out. Not long after that the Capitals goaltending situation looked a bit dire.

With Varlamov struggling to stay healthy and Jose Theodore and Brent Johnson struggling at the big club with their play and injuries, Neuvirth played some musical chairs often getting called straight from South Carolina to sit on the bench to play back up for the Capitals.

Now with injuries looking to sideline Johnny for some time and Varlamov still recovering from his hurts, Michal Neuvirth could have his NHL debut with the Washington Capitals this week. It could even happen on this three game road trip. It caps a rollercoaster year for the 20 year old goaltender that has seen Neuvirth wear three different jerseys.

He was sent down briefly to the Hershey Bears to get a start under his belt and played to a 3-2 loss. The last time the Neuvirth had seen anything similar to NHL action would be back in training camp. He was recalled, as expected, joining the Capitals as they prepare for their brief three game road trip.

Per Tarik's blog: "It's been crazy," said Neuvirth, who added it was nice to pick up some clothes from Hershey though. "If someone would have told me I'm going to be in Washington in February after starting the year in the ECHL I don't know if I would believe it."

The boyish goaltender will be thrown right into the fire if he does get a start as backup to Jose Theodore. In the preseason games, Neuvirth did look vulnerable in net due to his apprehensive play. But he has yet to play with the full starting roster for the Capitals. It will be interesting to see his technical butterfly style at work against high intense NHL games.

It's a chance of a lifetime, Neuvirth has to "Just do it."

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