Since the firing of Bruce Boudreau six days ago the Capitals have talked about having clean slates and new opportunities under head coach Dale Hunter.
No one in the locker room is more excited about that opportunity than goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
Yeah, a new coach, a new life, said Neuvirth, who is scheduled to start Saturday night when the Capitals try to break a four-game losing streak against the visiting Ottawa Senators.
Everythings new right now. He hasnt seen me play and when I play my next game for him I want to play my best.
At the start of training camp, Boudreau made it clear that 35-year-old veteran Tomas Vokoun would be the Capitals No. 1 goalie. It was a kick in the belly to Neuvirth, who vowed to fight tooth and nail for the starting job.
Neuvirths hopes of competing with Vokoun suffered a setback when a badly bruised foot sidelined him for much of October. When he returned he struggled, going 2-4-1 with a 3.81 GAA and .868 save percentage.
Hunter said he recognizes the fact Neuvirth relieved Vokoun in two of the Capitals blowout losses in Vancouver and Toronto and knows first-hand the kind of impact the 23-year-old goalie can have in a game.
Back in 2007, Hunter was coaching the London Knights when Neuvirth and the Plymouth Whalers knocked the Knights out of the third round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs in five games.
Neuvirth, who was 19 at the time, went on to guide the Whalers to the OHL title, going 14-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .932 save percentage. Two years later Neuvirth guided the Hershey Bears to a Calder Cup and was named playoff MVP.
Hes a very good goalie and competes hard and hes sound with rebounds, Hunter said. He doesnt give many up.
The same cannot be said of Vokoun, who has struggled with rebounds lately, even though hes allowed just four goals in his last two starts.
I thought in the two games Tomas played he was real solid, Hunter said. Confidence for a goalie comes when you win. Good things will happen when you work. Tomas has been in the league so long because of his work ethic. I thought he played well and kept us in.
Neuvirth has started just one of the Capitals last six games, allowing six goals to the Rangers in Boudreaus final game at the Verizon Center on Black Friday. He has spent the past week working with roving goalie instructor Olie Kolzig and goaltending coach Dave Pryor.
Dave does the most talking, Neuvirth said. Mentally, its a tough situation when youre not winning. The confidence is not where you want it. But hockey players go through slumps sometimes and we all want to get out of it as soon as we can.
Ive been practicing pretty well and I feel good about myself. I just need to show it in a game.