Adam Oates hesitated when asked about his starting goaltender for the first time in awhile. Braden Holtby was clearly the man, starting 13 of the Washington Capitals' past 14 games, but Michal Neuvirth will get the nod Thursday night at the Carolina Hurricanes.
"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.
"I think I should be playing better," Holtby said. "I'm not satisfied with what we're doing right now."
Holtby gets a break against Carolina as Neuvirth is set to make his first start since Feb. 7, when he was pulled after allowing two goals on 11 shots at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Obviously, it's been a long time [since] I started" Neuvirth said. "I practice hard and I'm feeling good in practice, but practice is not a game."
Neuvirth made a relief appearance Sunday against the New York Rangers, which the 24-year-old said was hard because he didn't have preparation time. He was sick for a few days before playing against the Rangers.
Illness kept Neuvirth from making two scheduled starts: Feb. 27 at the Philadelphia Flyers and this past Saturday at the New York Islanders. Holtby started at Philadelphia and Philipp Grubauer at New York, but Neuvirth said he's 100 percent now and ready to face the Hurricanes.
"Everybody's going to get their turns," Oates said.
Neuvirth has just one victory with the Caps' season more than half over. Five of his seven starts came consecutively from Jan. 24 to 31.
That has meant a lot of time off going into the most important game of the season so far.
"For me myself, I'm just going to [take it] one game at a time and I'm focused in on [Thursday]. 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."
Poti feeling better
Defenseman Tom Poti skated Wednesday after missing Tuesday night's 4-0 loss to Carolina with what the team is calling an upper-body injury. Poti said he tweaked something Sunday against the Rangers and that it was a different problem than when he got when hit into the boards Feb. 5.
"Feeling OK," Poti said. "A little stiff, a little sore. But it felt better today. That's why I went on the ice and tested it out."
Poti was uncertain if he'd be able to play Thursday at Carolina. Judging by the defensive pairings at Wednesday's practice, the Caps could have the same blue line: Karl Alzner with Tomas Kundratek, Jeff Schultz with John Carlson, and Cameron Schilling with Steve Oleksy.
Kundratek, Schilling and Oleksy were with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League when the Caps' season began.
"I think the three guys that got called up, they've been playing really well," Poti said. "Schill had a good game [Tuesday] night and those guys played well. We kind of threw them into the fire a little bit and they've been playing pretty good."
Changes up front
Oates shuffled his forward lines after the shutout loss, reuniting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom with Matt Hendricks at left wing.
"With Backy, I play almost all my career in NHL," Ovechkin said. "It's not gonna be [a] question, like we have chemistry or not."
Marcus Johansson will get a chance to center the second line between Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer, while Mike Ribeiro goes back to a spot he was in earlier in the season, between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward.
"Just trying to find a little chemistry," Oates said. "Sometimes you get a little flat. Looking for a spark. Throw a different wrinkle at them."
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