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Michal Neuvirth going through tough stretch without Dave Prior

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Michal Neuvirth has played a grand total of 20 minutes in 2012, a relief appearance in Los Angeles last week. His last start for the Washington Capitals came Dec. 26, when he allowed three goals on six shots in just over 11 minutes at the Buffalo Sabres.

It has been a difficult experience for Neuvirth sitting out while Tomas Vokoun has made nine straight starts, made even harder by the absence of goaltending coach Dave Prior.

“It would be nice if we had a goalie coach here. But we don’t. It’s pretty tough, but I’m trying to work hard,” Neuvirth said Monday. “I’m staying on the ice extra every after practice.”

Prior is away from the team doing scouting in Hershey or South Carolina, a team spokesman said. The spokesman said Monday night that Prior would return to the Caps on Tuesday.

Associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig is not around either, but his job is to work with Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and the other kids in the pipeline.

Vokoun is 7-2 in his nine straight starts, and he made 43 saves Sunday in a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. That stretch of strong play has kept Neuvirth off the ice.

“Tomas playing good right now,” Neuvirth said. “He’s playing good and we’re winning, so why would we change anything.”

Playing back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday figures to mean Vokoun and Neuvirth will split. But coach Dale Hunter said he hasn’t made a decision yet.

Asked if he expected to play one of the games – either against the New York Islanders on Tuesday or at the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday – Neuvirth wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know. No one’s really talked to us. So I don’t know,” he said.

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