On the Hot Seat: Really, Michal Neuvirth?!?

Updated: October 10, 2011 at 11:32 am by Alexander Monaghan

On the Hot Seat is a column which will run every other Saturday and will discuss the likely changes between the pipes at the moment. Think of this as a primer that will go over basically any starting goalie position that might be in jeopardy whatsoever.

By Alexander Monaghan

On Thursday, Washington Capitals starting goalie Tomas Vokoun was asked how he felt about starting the season opener with his new team. His response: I’m not scheduled to play that day.

As fantasy hockey addicts, and likely Vokoun owners, we responded with a resounding ‘Huh?’

Huh? indeed. Michal Neuvirth, the incumbent starting goalie following the departure of Semyon Varlamov, has been scheduled to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. It could be because of his track record against the Canes — 2.50 GAA, .915 SV%; it could also have to do with Vokoun’s poor preseason (Judging by their preseason save percentage, shouldn’t be massive surprise: .949 vs .870).

With Vokoun expected to start no less than 50 games, this situation deserves a tiny bit of monitoring. In this case I would recommend any and every Vokoun owner to acquire Neuvirth as a handcuff. Leagues are not won in the second round but they sure can be lost there so get some insurance on your investment.

Jonathan Bernier vs. Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Quick, by all accounts, looked sharp in his team’s 3-2 OT win against the New York Rangers yesterday. While he was barely tested — facing a whopping 26 shots — he got the job done and pulled through with a W. His reward the following day: the bench.

When asked, coach Terry Murray claimed to be riding the hot hand all season, opposed to using Quick as his starting goalie and giving Bernier the mop-up duties. From LA Kings Insider:

“We talked back home, in the early part of the training camp, where I’ve said that I’m not going to lock myself in, to where i have designated games for the goaltenders. I’m going to play it out right here at the start of the year. Everything is so critical. If we get a goaltender that’s on a roll, to me that’s going to be the right way to go.”

Apparently the first win was not enough to deem Quick the “hot hand” which will give Bernier a shot. If Bernier wins in a more decided manner, perhaps he gets that esteemed distinction. One thing is for certain, these two are acting in tandem, not a #1 and #2 scenario.

Jason LaBarbera vs. Mike Smith

The past two seasons, Phoenix Coyotes goalies combined for a 2.34 GAA and a 2.64 GAA. The common denominator was of course Ilya Bryzgalov, who now tends the nets in Philadelphia and saw the above statistics dragged down by his counterpart Jason LaBarbera.

Therefore it should come as no surprise that Mike Smith won the starting goalie gig despite both players having a “good camp.” His impressive 3-1 win in the team’s last preseason game gave him the nod for tonight’s rematch but keep in mind the Sharks fielded about half of their regulars in all situations; he should have a harder challenge in the regular season.

After tonight, who starts in Phoenix is anyone’s guess. Keep that in mind when deciding which player to keep in the long run.

Devan Dubnyk vs. Nikolai Khabibulin

Who will start for the Oilers when they open the season Sunday night in Edmonton? Dubnyk has certainly earned his keep as the team’s starting goalie at the tail end of last season and should get the nod. Nevertheless, with the team still invested in Khabibulin for two more seasons at $3.75 million, he will see his fair share of playing time. Right now it sounds like Khabibulin’s job to lose.

When questioned by reporters, coach Tom Renney enjoys the dynamic between the two. From the Edmonton Journal:

If he does struggle, head coach Tom Renney will quickly turn the net over to Devan Dubnyk, who in his first full season in the league, posted a .916 save percentage through 35 games. “I still think that there’s a mentorstudent thing happening here,” said Renney. “There’s a real good giveand-take between the two guys. I see it being very healthy.”

Neither netminder sounds like a good fantasy hockey option at this point. However, the youngsters could turn some heads, the veterans could stay healthy and the current defensive corps could keep some pucks out of the net. Certainly a situation to monitor closely (you will definitely enjoy watching top prospects as well).

Al Montoya vs. Rick DiPietro vs. Evgeni Nabokov

Montoya gets the surprise start tonight but from there it is anyone’s guess.

DiPietro, if healthy, is expected to get the majority of starts but coach Jack Capuano needs to keep all three of his ‘tenders fresh. Montoya finished the season with an impressive 2.39 GAA and .921 SV%. Out of the three, he certainly holds the highest upside as the youngest option, and one that succeeded already in the current system.

Until the New York Islanders can prove themselves a better team than last season, keep one of the three on the waiver wire or on the bench. At this point it seems like Montoya is the short-term add.

Tuukka Rask vs. Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas posted one of the more prolific fantasy hockey performances last season, finishing with a 2.00 GAA and .939 SV% over 57 games. Despite winning his second Vezina Trophy in three seasons, he is not ranked the top fantasy hockey goalie or even in the top five.

Why? Because fantasy hockey addicts aren’t willing to trust a repeat of one of the strongest performances in NHL history. The last time Thomas won the Vezina, he lost his job to Tuukka Rask — who followed with an impressive season of his own, posting a 22-12-5 record with five shutouts, a 1.97 GAA and .931 SV%.

If you own Thomas, you should grab Rask with a later pick as a handcuff. It certainly won’t hurt. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins seem poised for another successful season so make sure you place a bet on both horses in order to maximize your wins.

Roberto Luongo vs. Cory Schneider

If you were to ask coach Alain Vigneault or any member of the Vancouver Canucks organization about a goaltending controversy, they probably would all tell you the same thing. “Roberto Luongo is our guy, our number one.” However, if his opening night 4-3 OT loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins are any indication, Cory Schneider is a better goalie.

Luongo makes plenty of netminding gaffes, including the first period goal by James Neal. The Penguins clearly watched tape of those gaffes during the Stanley Cup Finals and utilized them during the game. How long until the rest of the League catches onto him?

Schneider posted a 16-4-2 record with one shutout, a 2.23 GAA and .929 SV% over 25 appearances last season which makes him an option even in shallow fantasy hockey leagues. If you own Luongo, you should own Schneider. If you need a number three goalie, you should own Schneider. Overall, you probably should own Schneider.

We hope you enjoyed our segment on starting goalies and fending off their backups as much as we enjoyed writing it.  If there are glaring omissions such as the awesomeness of Ty Conklin or your love affair for Andrew Raycroft, let your voice be heard in the comments. Regardless, make sure to take all of the advice in and continue to check our renowned starting goalies section, which is updated all day until game time.

Al Montoya, Boston Bruins, Cory Schneider, Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers, Evgeni Nabokov, Jason LaBarbera, Jonathan Bernier, Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, Michal Neuvirth, Mike Smith, New York Islanders, NIkolai Khabibulin, Phoenix Coyotes, Rick DiPietro, Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, Tuukka Rask, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals