Michal Neuvirth is set to start in goal for the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at the Carolina Hurricanes in their biggest game of the season, coach Adam Oates said Wednesday. Braden Holtby had started 13 of the previous 14 games.
“We need a good start,” Oates said. “The last couple starts have been tough on Braden. So just give him a chance to regroup and Neuvy gets it.”
Holtby went 8-5 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in those 13 starts. But in his past two, he’s 0-2 with a 3.96 GAA and .889 save percentage.
This will be Neuvirth’s first start since Feb. 7 when he was pulled after allowing two goals on 11 shots to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Obviously it’s been a long time [since] I start,” Neuvirth said. “I practice hard and I’m feeling good in practice, but practice is not a game.”
The 24-year-old is 1-4-1 with a 2.99 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Illness prevented him from making two scheduled starts, Feb. 27 at the Philadelphia Flyers and March 9 at the New York Islanders, but Neuvirth said he’s 100 percent now.
The Caps need Neuvirth to be healthy and ready, given that they trail the first-place Hurricanes by 10 points in the Southeast Division.
“For me myself I’m just gonna [take it] one game at a time and I’m focused in on tomorrow. That’s what I’m worried about right now,” Neuvirth said. “Obviously we have a tough schedule ahead of us, and we need to get some wins.”
That Neuvirth has only one victory with the season more than half over is stunning. He only has seven starts and five of them came consecutively from Jan. 24-31.
Since then, as he has battled illness, Neuvirth has leaned on Dave Prior and tried to stay focused on practice.
“I’m talking to Dave the whole time,” the Czech netminder said. “He’s a great goalie coach and he knows what is he talking about and I’m listening to him.”
Neuvirth did get some action Sunday, stopping 10 of the 11 shots he faced in relief of Holtby against the New York Rangers.
“Obviously it wasn’t easy,” he said. “I didn’t practice before the game for a couple days, so it was hard. But now I’m feeling good.”
Neuvirth is 3-1-1 with a 2.66 GAA and .913 save percentage in his career against the Hurricanes. He doesn’t think that experience gives him an edge Thursday.
“Every game is a different story,” Neuvirth said. “You’ve got to be ready. Every game goes different way.”