It wasn’t long ago when Michal Neuvirth was mired Dale Hunter’s doghouse.
On Feb. 13, Hunter benched Neuvirth for an important game against San Jose in favor of Braden Holtby — who hadn’t played a game this season. When asked why, Hunter alluded to Neuvirth’s spotty play and said that if the 23-year-old “was standing on his head,” maybe the decision would’ve been different.
Say what you will about Hunter’s methods, but they worked.
Neuvirth has been on fire since the Sharks game — especially during Washington’s current three-game winning streak. He’s allowed just eight goals on 132 shots (.939 save percentage, 1.83 (GAA), a big reason why the Caps have stayed afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Neuvirth told the Washington Post. “Obviously there are some ups and downs, but I always bounce back. The last three games I’ve been feeling pretty good. I had a good practice today and I’m excited about [Friday].”
Friday, of course, is another huge game for the Caps — though they all are at this stage. It’s a home date against the New Jersey Devils, who sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, and Wshington knows with their two chief Southeast Division rivals having the night off (Florida and Winnipeg), this is a huge chance to make up points.
That said, Caps goalie coach Dave Prior warns Neuvirth against putting too much emphasis on a single game.
“For him it’s a bigger adjustment to not put so much emphasis on one game when you do get to play, because it’s just got to be another game,”Dave Prior said. “But for you, it might mean whether you get to play again in the next month. He’s learning to deal with that more.”
Neuvirth’s teammates are doing all they can to help in his mental approach. Caps blueliner Karl Alzner has been especially supportive — he and Neuvirth go way back to their AHL Hershey days.
“He’s got this personality where he can just brush off anything, a bad game, bad goal, criticism, he seems to be able to forget about it,” Alzner said. “He doesn’t come into the dressing room throwing stuff or yelling and screaming, no matter what happens.
“It’s just not his personality. He’s calm.”