RALEIGH, N.C. | It might have been a surprise to everyone else that Tomas Vokoun was starting in net for the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the Carolina Hurricanes, but it wasn’t to him and it wasn’t to Michal Neuvirth.
This was Dale Hunter’s plan all along. Vokoun said the Caps coach told him upon landing in Montreal that Neuvirth would get the nod against the Canadiens on Wednesday night and that he’d go right back to the 35-year-old No. 1 goaltender at RBC Center Friday.
“It’s nice to know like that,” Vokoun said. “You kind of know what to expect.”
Neuvirth made 31 saves in shutting out the Canadiens on Wednesday, a remarkable bounce-back performance for the 23-year-old who hadn’t started since Dec. 26. But a heavy workload that night makes Hunter feel better about his decision.
“Michal, he hasn’t played. He had lots of rubber with the penalties that we had. He had to move side to side maybe a thousand times there,” Hunter said. “Definitely it’s tiresome on the legs; he hasn’t played for a while. It’s good for him to get a rest here today anyways.”
Neuvirth got a lot of extra work after the morning skate with goaltending coach Dave Prior, the other assistants and healthy scratches John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and Jay Beagle.
Meanwhile, Vokoun prepared for his 11th start in 12 games. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s crystal clear now that he’s the Caps’ undisputed No. 1 goalie.
“It’s nice to have a coach’s confidence, but you always have to perform,” Vokoun said. “Nothing’s for certain. No status can give you; if you don’t perform, you’re not going to be out there. It’s nice, obviously, to get a vote of confidence. Still a lot of games left and you’ve still got to put good efforts out there.”
Neuvirth’s answer to a question Wednesday night about starting again at Carolina seemed to indicate he knew what was going to happen.
“I’m pretty happy with my performance,” he said. “But Vokey’s playing great right now, and we’ve been winning all the hockey games, so he’s No. 1 and I’m just happy to get a start tonight and got a big ‘W’ for myself and for the team.”
Hunter admitted “in the back of my mind” he knows who’s going to start Sunday at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“But I’m not telling,” he said.