Michal Neuvirth was hoping this season would be different.
He was hoping to win the starting job from Braden Holtby, establish himself as a No. 1 and parlay that into a lucrative and lengthy contract with the Capitals.
Instead, the 25-year-old goaltender has started just nine of the Capitals’ first 33 games and has gone 2-5-1 with a 2.99 GAA and .899 save percentage.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said he plans on giving Neuvirth his 10th start of the season this weekend, either in Buffalo on Saturday night or in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
“Obviously, it would be nice to get back in the net,” said Neuvirth, who has started just two of the Caps’ last 22 games. “But it’s not going to be easy for me to play one game in a month. It’s pretty hard. I’ve never been through this, but I hope it makes me better in the long run.”
Oates said the plan is for Holtby and Neuvirth to split the weekend games, but noted that he had the same plan going into Winnipeg last week and decided to start Holtby in both games because he saw just 20 shots in the first game, a 4-0 win.
Oates said Neuvirth has been a “professional” this season, accepting his role as Holtby’s backup.
“No problems,” Oates said. “He’s done what I think he should do. He’ll get his turn…. Holts has been hotter so we’ve rode him a little bit. If you have a mature outlook on it you’ll get plenty more [starts]. … To me, it’s all part of being a pro, to have a positive outlook every single day.”
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said Neuvirth is so calm that even if he was upset at not starting games no one could tell.
“We haven’t really had in the last few years that one guy that’s who is set in stone,” Alzner said, “but he knows what’s at stake.”
What’s at stake this weekend is a playoff berth. The Sabres [13-6-5] have the same number of points as the Capitals and the Flyers [13-17-3] are two points behind them.
That’s why Oates is struggling with the decision over who to start this weekend. It’s conceivable that Holtby [13-11-0, 2.66, .916] starts Saturday night in Buffalo, then Oates decides on the Flyers game based on what he sees in Buffalo.
“We haven’t played Neuvy for a while,” Oates said. “If he comes in and doesn’t have a great game it doesn’t mean I’m evaluating him on that game. I don’t think that’s fair, either. You almost don’t [evaluate]. You hope he comes in and gives us a good start. If he does, great. If he doesn’t, I understand.”
Neuvirth said he’ll take whatever Oates gives him and try to make the best of it.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m just trying to support Holtsy and the team.
Practice is a different story than the game. I wish I played more, but it is what it is and I look forward to the next game.”
Wherever and whenever it may be.