Surprise! Neuvirth gets first start in seven weeks

Surprise! Neuvirth gets first start in seven weeks
January 10, 2014, 6:15 pm
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(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Oates wasn’t trying to be funny with his response when he was asked why goaltender Michal Neuvirth is starting tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, his first start since Nov. 22

“It’s his turn,” Oates said. “He hasn’t played for a long time. His turn.”

Braden Holtby will serve as backup to Neuvirth and Philipp Grybauer, who stopped 33 shots in a 4-3 win in Tampa on Thursday night, will be a healthy scratch.

Confuzzled? Well, you can imagine how difficult this must be for Oates, who has three healthy goalies on his roster and at the start of a six-games-in-nine days stretch.

So, does this mean Holtby will get the start Sunday afternoon against Buffalo?

“I really don’t have an answer for that,” he said. “We’ll have to see. … Maybe everybody will play, maybe not.”

Neuvirth [2-3-1, 2.83 GAA, .912 save percentage] last played on Nov. 22 when he dropped a 3-2 decision to the Montreal Canadiens at VerizonCenter. He eas supposed to face them again one week later but stepped on a puck during pre-game warmups and injured his ankle.

Neuvirth agreed to a rehab assignment with the Hershey Bears, but when he returned to Washington Grubauer was playing too well to send back to Hershey, going 4-0-1 in his first five starts.

Neuvirth’s inactivity prompted him to say he wanted to be a No. 1 and if not with the Capitals then with someone else. His agent echoed those sentiments when he requested a trade.

But let’s face it, opposing general managers have little interest in a goalie who hasn’t played for seven weeks. So, if for no other reason, Neuvirth needs to play well if he wants the chance to be a No. 1 – if not here then maybe somewhere else.

“It’s been a long time,” Oates said. “Hopefully, he has a good game. He’s had a lot of shots, a lot of practice time. I’m just looking for a good game. You can only simulate so much in practice.”