Adam Oates didn’t quite confirm that Braden Holtby would start the Washington Captials’ season opener Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he knows that’s the common feeling within his locker room.
“I would say that I would think that the guys expect Holts to be in the net based on last year, for sure,” Oates said Monday.
Holtby had a 1.95 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in leading the Caps to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I think that’s over with, we didn’t win, that’s the main point,” Holtby said Sunday. “The thing that we’re focused on is what we have to do to be more successful in the playoffs and that starts with the regular season and doing what we have to do to be more successful.”
It remains to be seen how this regular season will be split between Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.
“Forty-eight games, I think both guys are going to play a lot,” Oates said. “I could say when a guy’s playing well, he’s playing well, he should play.”
Neuvirth got into some hot water over the summer, telling a Czech news agency Holtby was his “weakest competition yet.” The 24-year-old then said his comments were misconstrued.
Asked Sunday about fighting for the No. 1 job against Holtby, Neuvirth simply said: “No. I just want to prepare myself and whenever I get the chance, I’ll be ready.”
Oates conceded that being a first-time head coach means he doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with goaltending philosophy. He called having Holtby and Neuvirth “a luxury for a coach,” but his recent assistant coaching experience doesn’t give him any pointers on how to deal with this situation.
“I got two young kids, they’re both very good goalies,” Oates said. “Obviously I just was in New Jersey where Marty Brodeur, it’s not a question. We all know it. Circumstances are different.”
But don’t expect Oates to leave the goaltenders to their own devices like perhaps previous coaches have.
“I like to talk to all the guys, tell them how I’m feeling. I met with Michal the other day, and I said that very point where he’s going to get plenty of chances to play,” Oates said. “Your job is to play well, playing well doesn’t always equal wins. A puck can ricochet off a defenseman’s skate and you lose a game but you played a great game. I’m smart enough to know that.”