It’s no secret that Bruce Boudreau has a tough call to make. Regardless of who he taps to start Game 1 of the Capitals first round playoff series, the decision will come under scrutiny. While the NHL has a few games left to shuffle playoff seedings, it’s likely the Caps will face one of the bottom four playoff teams in the first round. If the playoffs began today, the fourth through eighth seeds would be Tampa Bay, Montreal, Buffalo, and New York. Here, we’ll take a look at how the Caps’ goalies have fared against those four teams.
Michael Neuvirth has been this year’s workhorse, starting the bulk of the games and stepping up with Semyon Varlamov’s multitude of injuries. However, Neuvy has been abused at times, especially by the Rangers. Varlamov has been almost a goaltending version of his countryman Alex Semin: oodles of talent marred by apparent mental lapses and inconsistencies. It also doesn’t help that constructed a vacation home in the trainer’s room and has chosen to live there for long stretches this season.
Then there’s Braden Holtby, the emergency call-up who has been lights-out on big stages, versus top-seeded Philadelphia and twice on Hockey Night in Canada. Is Holtby even in the discussion? If Neuvirth and Varly are healthy, one would think that young Braden would be contending for a Calder Cup this season instead of a Stanley Cup. However, his numbers, as you can see, don’t lie. It’s also worth noting that “predictable” isn’t exactly Bruce Boudreau’s modus operandi.
So, examine the numbers, and take a look for yourself. Does Varlamov’s solid performances against the potential opponents make him the starter if he’s healthy? Do we consider Neuvirth more “dependable” because of how much solid work he’s put in this year, despite the face he’s been beaten up by some of these teams? How can you ignore the ice water that seemingly runs through Holtby’s veins?
Looking just at the numbers, it definitely asks some tough questions. Before examining this data, I think I was more in the Neuvirth camp than the Varlamov camp. I’ve always liked Varlamov’s ceiling as an NHL goalie more than Neuvirth, and he certainly has big-game flair and is absolutely the guy I’d want stopping a penalty shot or breakaway in a clutch moment. Given that his numbers at least seem to support a track record versus the Capitals potential first-round matchups, it’s hard for me to lobby for Neuvirth until Varlamov gives us reason to think otherwise.
What other measures would you consider if you were Boudreau? Does the opponent matter? Let us know.