Goalies Vok­oun, Neu­virth put Hunter in a win-win sit­u­a­tion

Tan­dem pro­vid­ing solid play down the stretch

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

To­mas Vok­oun is fond of say­ing that it’s hard for the Washington Cap­i­tals to win when they don’t score goals. Scor­ing at least one is vi­tal; “it’s pretty sim­ple math,” he stated af­ter a shutout loss in Jan­uary.

Michal Neu­virth knows the feel­ing. At times this sea­son, he’s vir­tu­ally needed a shutout to earn a vic­tory.

But with just 13 games left, it would be tough for the Cap­i­tals to win and make the play­offs if not for some solid to stel­lar goal­tend­ing. Lately, Vok­oun and Neu­virth have gone save for save and game for game, giv­ing coach Dale Hunter a pleas­ant dilemma. Which goalie do you ride down the stretch? “When you have two, it’s a coach’s dream there be­cause it’s a lot of pres­sure on these guys,” Hunter said af­ter Neu­virth’s 2-0 shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sun­day. “Both guys are ready to go, and that’s good for me.”

Both want the net and the rhythm that comes with reg­u­lar starts. Vok­oun has ap­peared in at least 44 games for the past nine sea­sons (in­clud­ing this one); Neu­virth has never been a backup goal­tender in his ca­reer and has said a lighter work­load has been an ad­just­ment.

“I think its a chal­lenge for both of these indi-

CAP­I­TALS AT IS­LAN­DERS To­day:

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vid­u­als only be­cause they’re both used to hav­ing the lion’s share of the games. And To­mas in par­tic­u­lar,” goal­tend­ing coach Dave Prior said. “For both of them, they’d sooner be in a reg­u­lar rhythm of play­ing games. . . . [But] they un­der­stand what the ground rules are.”

The ground rules seem to be play well and win and you’re back in the net. Vok­oun started 10 in a row at one point, fol­low­ing a string of five starts for Neu­virth. Back and forth they go, with Washington putting up wins gen­er­ally when one goalie is on a roll.

Right now, both seem to be. Take out Neu­virth’s five-goal per­for­mance against New Jer­sey on March 2 that could be blamed more on poor play in front of him than his mis­takes, and the Caps haven’t al­lowed more than three goals in a game since Feb. 22.

“They’ve been play­ing re­ally good for us, and that’s what we need this time of the year,” cen­ter Mathieu Per­reault said. “We’re try­ing to make the play­offs and we’re try­ing to make a push to catch up on Florida, so it’s what we need from our goal­tend­ing.”

Who starts Tues­day at the New York Is­lan­ders? The fact that it’s a mat­ter of de­bate is good for the Cap­i­tals. That might safe­guard against what has been a sea­son-long trend of one goalie go­ing on a run and then get­ting lit up when he goes cold.

And if Vok­oun and Neu­virth man­age to keep up this kind of play, it can only help the guys in front of them by re­liev­ing the pres­sure of need­ing to score a lot to win.

“Goal­tend­ing has been great. I think we’re find­ing our iden­tity,” for­ward Brooks Laich said. “I think we’re com­fort­able with our sys­tems and we’re start­ing to el­e­vate our game.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

The puck stops here for Cap­i­tals goalies Michal Neu­virth (left) and To­mas Vok­oun, who have com­bined for three straight wins in­clud­ing a shutout by Neu­virth on Sun­day. With 76 points, Washington is one be­hind South­east Di­vi­sion-lead­ing Florida and the No. 3 seed. The Cap­i­tals cur­rently are the No. 8 seed.

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