Michal Neuvirth was going to be the man, without question. Braden Holtby knew it in early April.
“If I get in, I get in. If I get asked to play, I’m going to play with everything I have and make sure I’m prepared to go,” Holtby said April 4. “If I don’t get asked, I’m going to do the best to be the best teammate and give as much support to Neuvy as I can.”
Then came the next night, when Marco Sturm fell awkwardly on Neuvirth’s hip and knocked him out of commission. It was Holtby’s show for the Washington Capitals at that point.
“Those are things you don’t think about, I guess. It’s crazy,” forward Keith Aucoin said. “Neuvy’s a great goalie, and Holtby’s stepped in and has done an unbelievable job. I knew from the beginning when he got here he could do it.”
Neuvirth’s hip flexor injury changed the course of the Caps’ playoff run, as Holtby emerged as a stellar postseason goaltender. And while it looks like Holtby staked a claim to the No. 1 job going into next season, Neuvirth is ready to compete.
“The season’s pretty long. You’ve got 82 games and anything can happen. Look at Holtsy, you know. He was in Hershey whole time and now he was starting goalie for us,” Neuvirth said last week. “So you never know. Gonna go home, work hard and be ready for training camp. I know I can be the No. 1 in this league. That’s my goal. I will do whatever it takes to be the man.”
Neuvirth looked like he was going to be “the man” going into this past season. He was the unquestioned starter in the 2011 playoffs, and with Semyon Varlamov gone, he seemed to have the No. 1 spot locked up. The signing of Tomas Vokoun to a one-year, $1.5 million contract on July 2 changed all that.
Neuvirth would have liked to play more, though having the 35-year-old veteran around might do more good than harm in his long-term development.
“He gave me a lot of his thoughts about the game. I can’t say one bad thing against him,” Neuvirth said. “He’s been in this league for a long time. He knows what it takes to be the No. 1 and we were pretty close friends right now.”
Neuvirth and Holtby appeared to foster at least a very good working relationship during the playoffs when both were healthy. But it was Holtby’s net then, something that could change come September or October.
Neuvirth is fully recovered from the hip flexor injury, he said, and talked about improving his conditioning over the summer to put himself in a good position. Holtby welcomes the competition.
“Yeah, of course. Neuvy had an unfortunate injury that caused this; it’s nothing that he can control,” he said. “We as a goaltending tandem, if we’re asked to play for the Capitals next year, our goal is to do everything we can to win games as a group. Just because we play the same position, doesn’t mean we’re any less teammates. We cheer each other on whoever is playing and whoever is doing the best job to win games, that’s who’s going to play.”