Feeling Uneasy about Caps Goalie Situation / NHL News (Updated)

February 08, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

Caps Goalie Situation

Suddenly I am feeling very uneasy about the Caps goaltending situation with two months to go in the regular season. Jose Theodore, who is the clear cut number one goalie and is getting paid $4.5M a season this year and next to be that guy, has been great the last 6 weeks and is showing that he could be the one to carry Washington deep into the playoffs. But with Brent Johnson now out for two months due to hip surgery what happens if Theodore were to get hurt? This is a question that I think has to be causing Caps GM George McPhee and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau to lose sleep over because the answer isn’t too reassuring right now.

Today’s answer: It would be rookie Michael Nuevirth, who has never played an NHL game. This is because the Caps top goalie prospect Simeon Varlamov is out with another knee injury and as Tarik El-Bashir reported in his Capitals Insider blog today that is starting to become a concern for the team. I am really concerned too because when I spoke with Hershey Bears Director of Communications, John Walton, at last Thursday’s Caps-Kings game he made it sound like Varlamov, who is 2-0 at the NHL level, would be cleared to practice over the weekend. That did not happen and Walton is now reporting in his blog today that Varlamov is out until at least President’s Day weekend.

Neuvirth, who was sent down to play in Hershey Sunday, was on the losing end of the Bears game, 3-2. I did not see the game but a quick look at the box score shows that Hershey outshot Portland 39-28 yet were defeated. I checked out a live blog done by the Maine Hockey Journal and it appears that Neuvirth gave up two rebound goals and another long shot from the point that he was not screened on. This does not make me feel too good either but I’ll wait for more data from Monday’s write-ups. (Update: Tim Leone of The Patriot-News spoke with Neuvirth after the game and the young goalie is claiming he was screened on the game winner.)

Anyways, we will probably find out more about Neuvirth this weekend when the Caps play back to back games in Tampa and then Florida (Saturday and Sunday) since Boudreau will likely give the young netminder a start in one of those games so as not to burn out Theodore. After this set of back to back games the only other times Washington does this the rest of the season is February 28th (@Bos) and March 1st (Fla) and then on March 16th (@Atl) and 17th (@Fla). Based on what Boudreau and McPhee said to the media on Friday, it appears they were planning to not make a move and go with the kids in net as backups. However, after the latest Varlamov injury news and the fact that Neuvirth has yet to play an NHL game perhaps Manny Legace, who was waived by the Blues last week, might look like more of an attractive option? If not Legace, then I think McPhee has to seriously look at a trade for a solid backup because there is no guarantee that Johnson will be ready for the playoffs and Varlamov has a history of getting hurt so far in his young career. The trade deadline is March 4th so stay tuned…

NHL News

Buffalo Sabres forward Tomas Vanek, who was third in the NHL in goal scoring with 32 tallies (behind Alex Ovechkin’s 37 and Jeff Carter’s 34) will miss three to four weeks after suffering a broken jaw from a slap shot by Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov on Saturday night. The Sabres, who are currently in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, will now have to try and hold onto their playoff position without their best player. I have a hard time seeing this happen unless goalie Ryan Miller can stand on his head. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is a very good one but losing Vanek really hurts this team.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who made the Stanley Cup Finals last spring but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games, lost to Detroit again this afternoon in Pittsburgh, 3-0, on NBC. If the playoffs started today the Pens would be out and they have played 55 games, more than any other team in the Eastern Conference, so they aren’t in a good position right now. Goalie Marc Andre-Fleury gave up some big rebounds in today’s game and appears to be struggling. Btw, the Caps and Penguins will play at the Verizon Center on Sunday, February 22nd at 1230pm on the NBC game of the week. The game was originally scheduled for 3pm so please make a note of it. The Caps are 2-0 against Pittsburgh this year taking both contests at the Igloo.

The Calgary Flames are eight points up on the Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division but they have lost four straight games and suddenly the Canucks, who won the Mats Sundin sweepstakes, are starting to play better. Sundin is now on a line with Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kessler and they have 15 points combined in their last two games. If goalie Roberto Luongo, who missed just under two months due to a groin injury, gets his game going then the Canucks could be a dangerous team down the stretch and into the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils, 3-1, on Saturday night. Coach Terry Murray continues to do a phenomenal job with that young team and they are only three points out of a playoff spot as of Sunday evening.