Sunday, March 20, 2011, 12:24 p.m.
By Ben Raby
CAPITALS PAGE CAPITALS VIDEO
Five days after being named the NHL's first star of the week, Braden Holtby has been assigned to the AHL Hershey Bears. Holtby had split time in goal with Michal Neuvirth since March 3, while Semyon Varlamov recovered from his latest knee injury.
Varlamov travelled with the Caps on the first leg of their six-game road trip and Bruce Boudreau expects the most experienced of his three young goaltenders to return to the lineup next week. Varlamov has not played since Feb. 20.
"Varly will play next week," Boudreau said. "As great of a job as Holtby did, we know he's there. We'd rather keep him sharp."
Holtby went 5-0-0 during his latest stint with the Caps, with a 1.25 goals-against-average and a .957 save percentage.
"Three goalies is never a good situation for practice time or anything else," Boudreau said. "For people who think it makes the other guys better because there's pressure, it doesn't- it's not a great situation. So we'd rather have him playing full-time in Hershey."
Boudreau would not say when Varlamov will start again, but he acknowledged that it would have been nice to send the 22-year-old to Hershey for a conditioning stint. Varlamov, however, is not on the Bears playoff roster and is therefore ineligible to play in the AHL.
"If it was a situation where this was mid-February or January it may have been option," Boudreau said, "but there was no option now."
It may not be known until game day who will start Tuesday in Philadelphia, but the safe money is that Varlamov and Neuvirth will split back-to-back games next Friday and Saturday in Ottawa and Montreal.
Neuvirth is 3-0-0 against Ottawa with a 1.75 GAA and .938 save percentage while Varlamov has a 3-0-1 regular season record against the Canadiens, with a 1.45 GAA, .950 save percentage and one shutout.
"There's no lead," Boudreau said when asked if Neuvirth's shutout Friday in New Jersey has given him the inside track for the starter's job come playoffs. "This isn't a race. He played a great game just like Holtby was playing great and like Varly was playing great before he got hurt. So we'll just go with who we think is the hottest goalie at the time."
Neuvirth stopped all 33 shots Friday against the Devils and tied Jim Carey's franchise record with his fourth shutout as a rookie. Neuvirth's 23 wins are also a Capitals rookie record.
"It's nice and I'll just keep working hard," Neuvirth said. "It means a lot to me, but I'm aiming for bigger goals.
"I've played four seasons in North America and I've won three championships. I haven't been beaten in a playoff series. It's going to be a good challenge... but I'm going to be ready."
Neuvirth backstopped the Hershey Bears to back-to-back Calder Cups the past two seasons, taking MVP honors in 2009. He also won four playoff rounds with the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers during their 2007 championship season. Neuvirth has a combined lifetime record of 51-16 in the OHL and AHL playoffs.
"I feel good. I feel pretty confident about my game right now. Playoffs is the best time of the year, it's more fun and it's more interesting for everyone and I think everyone on our team can't wait for playoffs to start."
Neuvirth, however, knows that for all his playoff experience, none has come in the NHL. Varlamov's post-season experience has come exclusively in the NHL, appearing in 19 playoff games for the Caps the past two seasons.
"Varly was the starting goalie here the last couple of years, but I want to take his job from him," Neuvirth said. "We still have nine games left and anything can happen."