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Neuvirth might not be playing at an elite level had Prior not come back for the 2011-12 season after a one-year hiatus. Prior, who supported the Caps drafting Varlamov 23rd and Neuvirth 34th in 2006, wanted to return to coach the young goalies. Varlamov being traded to the Colorado Avalanche soon after left Neuvirth as the goalie with the longest connection to Prior in the organization.

Since Neuvirth returned from playing for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga during the NHL lockout, it was Prior’s advice about his playing too deep in the net that changed things. Prior called it the “European hangover,” and Neuvirth is clearly over it.

“I did focus on that. I’m feeling good right now and Dave is happy with [the way] I play so far. And I want to keep that up,” the Czech native said. “[The] more I play I’m feeling more comfortable. I expect me to play even better.”

Meanwhile, Holtby is forced to wait. Victimized in part by the Caps’ poor play during his first two starts of the season, he is determined not to let sitting on the bench disturb his confidence.

“I think the only time that really happens to guys is when the other guy that’s playing isn’t playing well. Then you start to second-guess,” Holtby said. “The way Michal’s been playing, we all know in here, especially myself, how capable Michal is of playing very well. As long as he keeps doing it, that’s what we need. As soon as I’m called I want to do the exact same thing.”

With a compressed, 48-game schedule, Holtby likely won’t have to wait too long to get another chance to improve on his 5.04 goals-against average and .863 save percentage.

Having Holtby to turn to is a “luxury” for Oates, but for now it would be a disservice to his team to take Neuvirth out of the net. Still, being No. 1 won’t change how Neuvirth views his own game.

“It’s tough to go with one guy the whole season, there’s always some up and downs,” he said, “but I’m trying to play the same way all season.”