Stellar relief: Michal Neuvirth stands out as Capitals rally past Flames in home opener

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The Capitals next game is Saturday night in Dallas and the team has a couple of things to sort out before then.

Defenseman Jack Hillen was injured early in Thursday night’s 5-4 shootout victory over Calgary and “will be out for a bit,” coach Adam Oates said. Alexander Urbom, claimed off waivers from New Jersey, is expected to make his debut.

One thing that does not appear to be open to discussion is the Caps’ starting goalie. Braden Holtby will make the start, Oates said.

“Absolutely,” Oates said. “Everybody has hiccups, everybody.”

Valid point and so is this: The Caps would be heading to Dallas with an 0-2 mark if not for the work Michal Neuvirth did after Oates decided to pull Holtby 16:22 into the game with the Caps already down 3-0.

Holtby faced 11 shots and gave up three goals.

Neuvirth faced 28 and gave up one. In the shootout, he stopped the two Flames he faced.

“You have to be ready as a backup,” Neuvirth said. “I was ready.”

Oates said he made the change because he thought the team needed something to help change momentum. The Caps lost their opener 6-4 (one of the goals was an empty-netter) in Chicago in Tuesday and here they were, down 3-0 before most of the crowd had settled into the seats.

“The first and third goals had eyes a little bit. Great shot on the first goal,” Oates said. “Kind of what happened the other night in the game, I wasn’t sure where [Holtby] was mentally. You’re looking for some sort of momentum change. You’re just looking for them to regroup.”

It worked, though not without an early issue. Neuvirth failed trying to clear the puck behind the net and it led to an easy Calgary goal, only 1:35 after Caps rookie Connor Carrick scored his first NHL goal. So much for that momentum, as the Caps were down three goals again.

From there, Neuvirth was extremely sharp – particularly late and in the shootout.

“[Neuvirth] was great,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He’s got something to prove. A lot of people are counting him out, and a lot of attention is giong to [Holtby]. Sometimes people forget how good of a goalie Neuvy is and we needed that big time from him.”

Said forward Brooks Laich, “The scrum at the end of the game, you could see he was battling. The shootout, he was sharp. We’ve got two tremendous goaltenders and if one of them has a tough night, usually the other one is ready to pick him up. There was a 2-on-1 in the second period and the bench is kind of going, ‘No 2-on-1s’ and a couple of guys said don’t worry, Neuvi has the save. And he made it. It is a calming influence on the team.”

Holtby was not among the players to address the media after the game. Neuvirth has played enough hockey and has been on the other side of a goalie switch, so he had a sense a change might be coming.

“After I give up the goal, I try to forgot about that,” he said. “It was my fault. I think I made a couple of saves and I bounced right back. I just try to stay focused on my game, stay patient, go minute-by-minute, stay focused.”

And now, assuming Oates sticks with the plan he was emphatic about after Thursday’s game, Neuvirth will go back to trying to keep himself ready for his next turn, whenever it comes.

“He’ll get his chance,” Oates said.

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