PITTSBURGH | Adam Oates pulled a goaltender for the first time as Washington Capitals coach on Thursday night, replacing Michal Neuvirth after he allowed two goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It didn’t go the way he planned, as Braden Holtby allowed two goals on the first seven shots he faced and things unraveled quickly for the Caps. He allowed a third goal before intermission.
“You know what? I thought we were playing really good hockey and I just thought they were goals that kind of deflated us and in looking at them on the tape I’m sure definitely one of the goals I’m sure Michal would want back,” Oates said in explaining the switch. “It kind of hurt us and we’ve been struggling and looking for just a change of momentum.”
Oates said he did not regret the move, even though an ice-cold Holtby allowed three goals on the first 11 shots he faced over a span of less than seven minutes.
“As a goalie you have to be ready to do that and it seemed like that was the turning point, though,” Holtby said. “It got even worse after I went in.”
Neuvirth, who came in with stellar career numbers against Pittsburgh, couldn’t really be faulted on Evgeni Malkin’s power-play goal, in which the Penguins star had time and space and picked a corner. Pascal Dupuis’ rolling-puck, five-hoal goal was a soft one.
Penguins players acknowledged being surprised by the hook on Neuvirth, who allowed two goals on 11 shots.
“Those weren’t bad goals by any means,” forward James Neal said. “Who knows? I know they’ve been struggling all season.”
Holtby stopped the first five shots he faced, then got beat on the power play by James Neal, who skated in behind Tomas Kundratek and shot five-hole. The very next shot, Matt Cooke went glove side on Holtby, like the Penguins did Sunday. With 21.2 seconds left in the period, Sidney Crosby batted the puck out of the air for Pittsburgh’s fifth goal of the night.
“Usually [a goaltending change] gives you momentum and you go and maybe get a goal,” defenseman Mike Green said. “In this case it didn’t.”
Neuvirth said of getting pulled, “I think [Oates] was trying to just change the momentum.”
“You know, always as a goalie you wanna finish the game,” he said. “Obviously it’s frustrating, but I’ve gotta stay positive and work hard.”
Teammates didn’t criticize Neuvirth’s play in the first period-plus.
“I don’t think it was because of the way Neuvy was playing,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We needed a change, we needed something to get us going and he hasn’t changed a goalie yet this year and maybe that was going to be something that clicked. But it wasn’t to be, we took two more penalties, got two more power-play goals scored on us, and another quick, even-strength goal. It’s little mental lapses, and they’re just killing us.”
For a team that has all too often been called mentally weak, that might have started in goal.
“You’ve got to be a strong team, you’ve got to do as many little things as you can, which includes the goalie,” Oates said.
Oates’ quick hook on Neuvirth was a major departure from his thinking Sunday when Holtby allowed five goals on the Penguins’ first 14 shots.
“The guy’s been very good for this franchise the last year, and I thought he earned the right to stay in there and fight through it, and the guys rallied around him,” Oates said Sunday afternoon. “I really felt like last year, when Holts came up, he really gave this team a rallying cry, and I thought, ‘You know what? He’s earned the right to stay in there and fight through this,’ and hopefully, we’ll rally and get some goals back for him.”
Thursday night, Oates was willing to take the chance, replacing Neuvirth with Holtby. Once it snowballed, there wasn’t much else he could do from the bench.
“The only other thing you got is timeout or change ‘em back. But once again I didn’t think it was because we were playing bad,” Oates said. “And you need a line to survive a shift and do some right things.”
Oates never used the timeout and didn’t go back to Neuvirth. Now the question remains how he and the Caps move forward with major question marks in net.