DETROIT | It was easy to second-guess Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter for some changes he made prior to Monday night’s game at the Detroit Red Wings. He went with Braden Holtby in goal over Michal Neuvirth and threw Jeff Halpern and Roman Hamrlik back into the lineup, replacing Joel Ward and Dmitry Orlov.
But after a 5-3 win, it was easy to praise Hunter, who had a method to his lineup meddling.
It proved out, especially with Holtby’s performance as the 22-year-old goalie made 30 saves, including some key ones in the third period to hold onto the lead.
“He was solid,” Hunter said. “I imagine he had some nerves and stuff. But he was solid and he’s a battler and made stops in the third that we needed.”
Neuvirth wasn’t to blame for Sunday’s loss at the Chicago Blackhawks, but he wasn’t stellar, either. He has only started games on back-to-back days once this season.
“Neuvy played last night and Holtby, he’s been good here before,” Hunter said of the goaltending decision. “He came up, unfortunately we didn’t win that game [Feb. 13] when he came up, but we thought he was a battler and he came in and gave us a good start.”
Ward has gone 34 games without a goal, something that’s hard to justify given his four-year, $12 million contract. The 31-year-old takes pride in the defensive aspects of his game and has done those well lately, but one point in 11 games led to his first healthy scratch for performance reasons this season. (Ward was scratched by Bruce Boudreau in November for oversleeping and missing a team meeting.)
“He’s a good guy, but we just thought we were going to have more faceoff help against [Pavel] Datsyuk and that,” Hunter said. “That’s the reason we put in Halpy.”
And Orlov? There was the lowlight from Sunday when Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg toasted him on a goal, and a few other memorable giveaways.
“We thought Orly made a few mistakes [Sunday] night, and we decided to sit him down and watch it from the stands,” Hunter said.
Neither Halpern nor Hamrlik figured in the scoring, and Halpern took an early hooking penalty. Otherwise, their nights were uneventful, which is a good thing when the precedent is that mistakes are a one-way ticket to the press box.
But guys in and out wasn’t the end of Hunter’s changes. He shuffled the lines, putting Alex Ovechkin with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson with Keith Aucoin and Alexander Semin, Jason Chimera with Mathieu Perreault and Mike Knuble and Matt Hendricks with Jay Beagle and Halpern.
“Just to try and get guys going, try and get guys moving around and maybe get them a little bit uncomfortable just so that you know you’re playing a little bit harder because you’re playing with new guys,” Brouwer said. “We came out and we wanted to have some good desperation at the beginning of the game. And we put ourselves in a good situation to win.”
So did Hunter.