The Washington Times - March 14, 2011, 10:32AM

Braden Holtby doesn’t worry about why he’s starting in net for the Capitals – be it his strong play, injuries to Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov, or coach Bruce Boudreau’s whim.

“I just hope that he calls my name and that I’m gonna be able to play. I kinda thought I might get a shot at it, just with health issues or whatever,” Holtby said Sunday. “I didn’t know what was going on. I try not to ask questions, just try to go about my business.”


Holtby’s business has been thriving, though to be fair he’s riding a pretty good Caps economy right now as they step up their all-around game in front of him. Still, in his March call-up, the rookie’s stacked up a .965 save percentage in parts of four games and gone 4-0. Boudreau is riding the hot hand right now, but what about in less than a month when the playoffs start?

“They’re really not making it easy on me,” Boudreau conceded. “I’m not trying to be aloof here. But Varly was going great, and then he gets hurt. Neuvy was going great, he gets hurt. Holtby’s going great now. I mean, it’s decision time.”

What Boudreau means is it will be decision time soon – something like a week or so from now. He said Sunday that like two years ago with Cristobal Huet, he’d like to have a No. 1 goalie settled on with seven or eight games to go. That marker would be right before the back-to-back games at Ottawa and Montreal March 25 and 26.

Holtby’s play has theoretically made him a player in all this, but …

“Neuvy’s ready to play, and he wants the net back. Varly’s getting better, but I mean we’ve wanted to have made a decision pretty soon, so hopefully we will,” Boudreau said. “They’re all playing so well, it’s making it difficult for us.”

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette – who has split his allegiance between goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher – has hesitated all season to name a “No. 1 goalie” and might not at all, even going into the playoffs. Boudreau seems set on doing that, perhaps of particular importance because he’s dealing with three young goaltenders here, and their psyches and confidence levels have to be managed more than veterans.

But as winger Mike Knuble pointed out, Boudreau might not be able to choose right not even if he wanted to – given that Neuvirth had been battling an eye injury and Varlamov coming back from a knee problem.

“You gotta have healthy guys to settle on one,” Knuble said. “The competition – 95 percent of the competition – has been between Varly and Neuvy. At times they’ve both shown well and at other times they’ve struggled. Braden’s come in and played solid.”

Last year a similar situation happened with the Flyers, who played five goalies last season as injuries kept knocking them out. Whichever guy was healthy got the nod by default – it’s how Michael Leighton was playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Boudreau understands a bit of that plight, because it surely seems like he’d like to have a starter establish himself, oh, about, weeks ago.

“We’ve given the goalies the opportunity that, ‘it’s yours, run with it.’ But then they get hurt and somebody else steps in and they run with it,” he said. “That’s wherein lies making a difficult decision.”

Talking to players about the situation, it doesn’t seem to matter – in a good way for the Caps.

“We have some good goalies here. We’re comfortable that if one guy goes down, two guys go down, we got someone who can step in,” forward Boyd Gordon said Saturday. “I think we’re pretty fortunate to have three guys you feel pretty confident with every night.”

It’s a good problem to have. Knuble said he didn’t know if it was like naming a quarterback – an analogy Laviolette has made. In hockey oftentimes it’s more about the guy who’s hot and not the more established one. The Devils may have a similar issue with Johan Hedberg and Martin Brodeur if they manage to make an improbable run to the playoffs.

Logically, Neuvirth and Varlamov seem to be the top options given their track record this season. Neuvirth appears to be the front-runner if a choice had to be made right now.

But fortunately for the Caps, it doesn’t. Holtby – who can be sent down to Hershey at any time – is on fire right now and could make Boudreau ditch the logical. There are no roster or salary cap limits in the playoffs, so save for worrying about the Bears (something that can’t be considered with the Stanley Cup in reach) there’s no reason not to have all three in Washington or on the road with the Caps.

Who starts? Well, the clock’s ticking, but it’s not decision time yet.