With back-to-back games against the Montreal Canadiens [tonight] and Toronto Maple Leafs [Saturday night], Adam Oates had a decision to make with his goaltenders.
Should he go back to Braden Holtby, who allowed four goals on 40 shots to the Penguins on Wednesday night? Or should he turn to backup Michal Neuvirth, who has not started since Nov. 9?
Oates chose Neuvirth to play tonight against the Canadiens and, more than likely, will go with Holtby in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
“I don’t know,” Oates said. “To get a split. It’s been too long for Neuvy because Holtsy’s played good.”
Neuvirth is 2-2-1 this season with a 2.79 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. He’s expected to face Montreal backup Peter Budaj, who is 3-1-0 with a 1.48 GAA and .945 save percentage.
“I’m going to try to enjoy the game and give my team a chance to win,” said Neuvirth, who has a career record of 5-2-0 with a 2.13 GAA and .926 save percentage against the Habs. “I’m just focusing on the game. I’m not thinking too much ahead, just going day by day right now.”
Neuvirth and Holtby have undergone some changes to their games under first-year goalie coach Olie Kolzig, who replaced Dave Prior.
Neuvirth said he didn’t want to discuss the changes to his game – “Let’s keep it a secret,” he said – but noted they’ve been significant.
“Things are working good,” he said. “I like it. It’s a big difference, actually. Dave was good to us, but Olie brought it to a different level.”
Holtby [10-7-0, 2.70, .923] appears to be playing farther back in his net this season, putting him in better position to get to rebounds. But that might also leave him more vulnerable to shots like the one Beau Bennett put past him Wednesday night to give the Pens a 2-0 lead.
“With every change you make there’s always something that you lose,” Holtby explained. “There are some goals that wouldn’t have gone in the way I played before, but those are the ones we’re OK with giving up now.
“Any time you change you are doing it to improve certain aspects, but with every change comes positive and negative. It’s a little frustrating at times, but at the same time you can tell where it’s benefitting. It’s still a pretty small sample size, but I think [the changes] are paying off so far.”
If Holtby gets the start in Toronto, it will be his third against the Maple Leafs. In two previous starts he’s 2-0-0 and has allowed just two goals. Holtby remains on the bubble in consideration for the Canadian Olympic team and said playing in Toronto shouldn’t affect his chances one way or the other.
“The people selecting, they don’t care where you play,” Holtby said. “Toronto is a fun place to play and it’s an even more fun place to win. That’s going to be our only focus. Personal stuff aside, our goal is to win the game.”
Newsy notes: Oates will try Marty Erat [no goals, 6 assists] at center tonight on a second line with wingers Brooks Laich [3 goals, 2 assists, minus-10] and Troy Brouwer [5 goals, 1 assist, minus-3]. Defenseman Mike Green is expected to return to the lineup, but Tyson Strachan will remain in the lineup in place of Steve Oleksy [no goals, 6 assists, plus-2], who will be a healthy scratch for the first time since the first two games of the regular season.