Head coach Adam Oates said Wednesday that Michal Neuvirth will make his season debut Thursday when the Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens.
Neuvirth has dressed as Braden Holtby’s backup in each of the first two games this season, but with the Caps beginning a stretch of three-games in four-nights and looking to snap a two-game losing streak, the elements are in place for a change in goal.
“It’s 48 games,” Oates said of the condensed schedule, “and before the season I talked with the goalies. My thought was [Holtby] is going to start and he’s going to start the home opener, but I’ve got to get Neuvy some games. So he gets his chance [against Montreal].”
Neuvirth has not played since Dec.30 when he last suited up for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic. The 23-year-old says that despite the layoff, he’ll be ready when called upon.
“I feel cold, but, you know, this is job I pick and I’ve got to handle it. I'm trying to stay positive and happy. I felt good during the practice today and I'm ready to go.”
While Holtby appeared in 25 games with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League during the NHL work stoppage, Neuvirth played in 24 games for Sparta Praha.
Shortly after his return to North America, Capitals goaltending coach Dave Prior had some advice for the Czech native.
“When I showed up,” Neuvirth explained, “Dave knew right away that I was playing too deep. He called it 'European hangover.' I worked at it and the puck is [now] hitting me, so that means I'm in the good positioning.”
Neuvirth was limited to 38 games last season when he split time in goal primarily with Tomas Vokoun. Injuries to Vokoun and Neuvirth though eventually gave Holtby a shot at being the starter and his play down the stretch and in the playoffs went a long way in his starting this season atop the depth chart.
“Absolutely,” Holtby is a No.1 goalie, Oates said after Wednesday’s optional skate. “I think he proved that last year in the playoffs and right before the playoffs. I think bringing him up last year helped this team get there and gave this team a little bit of an identity. So of course.”
Still, Oates has also said that he expects both Holtby and Neuvirth to see plenty of time in goal this season. Holtby is 0-2-0 this season with an .863 save percentage and 5.04 goals-against-average.
“It was really tough on Holtsy,” Neuvirth said of the Caps’ season-opening losses to Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.
“He gave up a lot of goals and it's not easy. It was a tough start for him. But I think he play well [against Winnipeg]. We've got to play better as a team.”
Neuvirth is 4-0-1 lifetime against Montreal with a .939 SV%, 1.82 GAA and one shutout.
“I'm going to need to focus and play all 60 minutes, good, solid hockey,” he said. “I had a good practice today and I'm feeling good.”