The Washington Times - December 23, 2011, 08:58AM

Dale Hunter made it clear from the start: Playing time is a reward system – on a game-by-game basis. That goes for goalies as well as skaters.

Michal Neuvirth will make his fourth straight start for the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the New Jersey Devils.

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I just basically judge game-to-game. You have to watch if there’s a lot of games in a row or whatever. Michal’s going to be judged how he plays [Friday] and we’ll decide who plays in Buffalo after that,” Hunter said. “Basically I watch the games and I judge how you play. If you play well, you’re going to get rewarded for it.”

That’s great for Neuvirth, who has a 1.00 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in three consecutive starts. But for Tomas Vokoun, sitting out is a challenge.

It’s not comfortable feeling I’m not playing. It’s not my decision and I can’t change that unless I get into the game and play,” he said. “You look at it, yes I play bad game last game. But that’s going to happen once in a while. After that, it’s out of my control. When they put me in, I’m going to go in and play. That’s pretty much all I’m concerned [about] right now.”

Vokoun allowed four goals on 21 shots in his last time out – Dec. 13 against the Philadelphia Flyers. With Neuvirth getting his fourth straight start for the first time all season Friday, Vokoun is guaranteed to go at least 13 days beween appearances.

Not having gotten a chance in a game since with Neuvirth rolling along, Vokoun said he hasn’t worked on anything specific because the problem has been bad goals.

There’s nothing to break down. There’s just a couple bad goals, and they’re the easy ones to stop. It wasn’t like it was hard shots, so there’s nothing really. It would be harder if I was slow or didn’t move well or something – then you’re going to try and fix that,” Vokoun said. “But those are stoppable shots. I just made bad mistakes. Really, the two games before then we won both games. You’re going to make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world.”

Asked how he felt about his game, Vokoun wasn’t sure how to quantify it right now.

Practice is one thing; game is another. I’ll find out when I play,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to judge how you are in the practice.”

Vokoun pointed out that his record is “not that bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad.” He’s 12-8-0 with a 2.81 GAA and .906 save percentage. The ultra-competitive 35-year-old said he has been harder on himself that he probably should have been.

But he didn’t agree with the notion that playing in a bigger market where hockey has more importance has played a role in his struggles.

I take every game hard when I lose, especially when I don’t play well. If my record was three wins and 10 losses or something like that, and I was struggling badly – as a goalie you just don’t want to put so much into one thing, one game,” Vokoun said. “Did I play last month the way I think I should or I could? No, I didn’t. Sometimes there’s other factors to that, too. I can control what I can control. I’m trying to control my work ethic and being ready next time I play. That’s pretty much what I’m left with.”