When Adam Oates took over as the Capitals’ head coach last year he wanted to establish a clear-cut No. 1 goaltender so that he did not have to answer questions like the ones he faced on Sunday.
Like, who will be his starting goalie Monday night when the league-leading Anaheim Ducks put their eight-game winning streak on the line at Verizon Center?
Braden Holtby? Philipp Grubauer? Michal Neuvirth?
Oates will make that call in the morning, but having three goalies on his roster instead of two makes for thorny decisions all around.
“All three guys want to play and all three guys will get a chance,” Oates said. “But right now it also makes for some tough decisions.
“I don’t have the perfect answer. That’s sports. That’s life. Neuvy, it was his turn to go [against Montreal on Nov. 29] and he stepped on a puck, and because of that, Grubi comes up [from Hershey] and plays good.
“One mans misfortune is another man’s good luck, right? Wally Pipp, right? Lou Gehrig”
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Wally Pipp was the Yankees’ starting first baseman in 1935. Legend has it he arrived at the ballpark with a headache and when his manager saw him taking a few aspirins, he decided to play Lou Gehrig instead. Gehrig went on to play the next 2,130 straight games.
Oates is not about to call Grubauer, who is 4-0-1 this season, his next Iron Horse.
In fact, when he was asked if Holtby [13-10-2] is still the Capitals’ No. 1 goalie, Oates said, “Yeah. For me he is. He’s earned that right over the last year. If he’s not having his best moment, he’s still the No. 1 guy. But maybe right now we have a chance to allow the moment to get back.”
In the meantime, Neuvirth is beginning to wonder where – or more importantly, if – he fits into the Caps’ plans.
“I want to be a No. 1 goalie in this league,” Neuvirth said on Saturday, “and if not here, maybe somewhere else.”
Neuvirth has not even dressed since returning from his ankle injury. Oates was asked about the risk of alienating Neuvirth.
“I guess there’s a risk,” he said. “I guess it’s our job to talk to Neuvy about that. We all have to be professional about it. Unfortunately, he got hurt and that set him back. He missed three weeks.
“Now what do you do? We need points. We don’t have the luxury of giving you a free game, you know?. It’ll run its course. He’s got to believe in that and we have to believe in that.”