- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2011

ARLINGTON, Va. -– A hockey rink has two nets, which means three goaltenders makes for a crowd. And with just nine games left in the regular season, the Capitals are thinking playoffs.

So on Saturday, they assigned rookie goalie Braden Holtby to Hershey of the American Hockey League, and they’ll ride with Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov at least for now.

“Three goalies is never a good situation for practice time or anything else,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “People think it makes the other guys better because there’s pressure – it doesn’t. It’s not a great situation.”

He’s right –- goalies prefer not to share a net, a problem the Caps experienced at the end of the 2007-08 season with Cristobal Huet, Brent Johnson and Olie Kolzig. But that won’t be an issue with this team down the stretch with Holtby’s demotion.

It didn’t matter that Holtby was the NHL’s first star of the week with a 4-0 record, .965 save percentage and 1.05 goals-against average, as he was the least experienced of Washington’s three netminders.

“I’d rather have him playing full-time in Hershey and us doing what we have to do up here,” Boudreau said. “We’d rather keep him sharp.”

Neuvirth made his case Friday night with a 33-save shutout of the Devils that gave the Caps their 10th win in 11 games.

“Yeah. I feel good. I’m pretty confident about my game right now,” Neuvirth said. “Playoffs is the best time of the year -– it’s more fun and it’s more interesting for everyone and I think everyone can’t wait till the playoffs start.”
Confident, yes, but Neuvirth said he doesn’t think the starting job is his to lose, citing Varlamov’s experience.

“Varly was the starting goalie for the last couple years, but I wanna take his job from him,” he said. “We still have nine games left and anything can happen.”

Boudreau said Saturday after practice at Kettler that Varlamov, who’s coming back from a lower-body injury, will play in at least one game this week. The Caps travel to face the Flyers on Tuesday, the Senators on Friday and the Canadiens on Saturday.

The coach isn’t committing to which goalie will play in which games – nor will he say that Neuvirth put himself in the “lead” to be the No. 1 guy when the playoffs start.

“There’s no lead. This isn’t a race,” Boudreau said. “We’ll just go with who we think is the hottest goalie at the time when the time is needed.”

Still, there’s a level of empathy for Holtby, who hasn’t lost an NHL game in regulation since Nov. 22. But Varlamov’s health and Neuvirth’s solid play in his past two starts made the move necessary.

“It’s tough. That’s the way that it works sometimes: You can play really good and it just doesn’t matter,” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “Sometimes the way the business works is that you literally can’t be here in terms of too many guys or the cap or whatever the situation is. That’s too bad, but we all know what he can do. Coaches and management know what he can do -– it’s no secret. He was the first star of the league, so he’s gonna be here someday.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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