Backstrom: "This is not good enough, that's for sure"
Three summers ago, the Capitals had a decision to make regarding goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
They could pay him what he was asking in contract negotiations, or they could trade his rights and anoint Michal Neuvirth as their No. 1 netminder.
They chose the latter, moving Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche on July 1, 2011 in exchange for Colorado’s first-round pick in 2012 [Filip Forsberg] and their second pick in either 2012 or 2013 [the Caps elected 2012 and traded the pick to Dallas for Mike Ribeiro].
Neuvirth’s excitement at the opportunity lasted less than 24 hours when the Caps signed free agent Tomas Vokoun as their starting goalie.
That is the backdrop for Saturday night’s game between the Capitals and Avalanche at Verizon Center [6:30 p.m, CSN], where Varlamov is expected to face the Capitals for the first time and Neuvirth is slated to make his first start of the season.
“It’s his turn,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said with a smile. “Go get him, Neuvy.”
Oates is well aware of the rivalry between Varlamov, who was taken by the Caps with the 23rd pick of the 2006 NHL draft, and Neuvirth, who was taken 34th overall the same year.
“As soon as I saw [Jean-Sebastien] Giguere played last night I would imagine Varly would play here,” Oates said “It’s all cat-and-mouse stuff. If you’re looking for a spark, maybe it sparks us, great.”
Neuvirth, 25, alternated with Vokoun throughout much of the 2011-12 season but injuries to both goalies opened the door for Braden Holtby and he’s been the Caps’ No. 1 ever since.
Despite that, the Caps gave Neuvirth a two-year, $5 million contract extension last season, banking on the fact he could challenge Holtby while also co-existing in the same locker room.
Neuvirth has done just that. He has the Caps’ only victory this season, stopping 26 of the 27 shots he faced in the Caps’ 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames on Oct. 3.
“I feel pretty good,” Neuvirth said. “I’ve had a couple of good practices and I’ll be ready.”
Varlamov, also 25, is now in the third year of the $8.5 million contract the Avs gave him three summers ago. He’s established himself as Colorado’s No. 1 goalie, going 37-45-6 in his first two seasons and a perfect 3-0-0 this season under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Patrick Roy and goaltending coach extraordinaire Francois Allaire.
With Varlamov allowing just one goal in each of his first three starts, the Avalanche has been the surprise team of the NHL, especially after finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL last season.
“They’re a fast, dynamic team,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Everyone wants to be the team to knock off the hot team and right now Colorado’s getting a lot of hype with their coach and the antics he’s had. We’re excited about the challenge.”
Roy was fined $10,000 by the NHL after his first coaching victory, which ended with him screaming at Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.
“With Patrick coaching they have an extra fire they probably lacked last year,” Holtby said. “We have to respect that and be ready to play.”
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin never had the opportunity to face Roy and said he plans on introducing himself to the Hall of Famer, who won two Stanley Cups in Montreal and two more in Colorado.
“Patrick Roy is like a legend,” Ovechkin said. “He’s probably one of those guys I say hi to him.”