- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth was smiling while sitting at his locker, almost for the first time since returning to North America. First he got the flu, then he watched as Braden Holtby started the first two games of the Washington Capitals’ season.

But Neuvirth knew he was starting Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens, his first game since Dec. 30.

“I feel cold, but, you know, this is [the] job I picked and I got to handle it. I’m trying to stay positive and happy,” Neuvirth said. “I felt good during the practice today and I’m ready to go.”

Neuvirth played for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga during the NHL lockout. The 24-year-old put up impressive numbers, but goaltending coach Dave Prior noticed something off in Neuvirth’s game as soon as training camp began.

“When I showed up, Dave knew right away I was playing too deep. He called it ‘European hangover,’” Neuvirth said. “I worked at it, the puck’s hitting me, so that means I’m in the good [position].”

Neuvirth, who’s 4-1-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .939 save percentage against the Canadiens, might need a little time to shake off rust.

He said the key will be focusing for 60 minutes.

“Every game is a different. You always try to focus on yourself,” Neuvirth said. “The job is simple: just stop pucks.”

Carlson lacking ‘focus’?

Defenseman John Carlson had a penalty and a couple of other mistakes that led to goals in Tuesday’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets. On Wednesday, he offered some self-criticism.

“It wasn’t my best, but it’s not the end of the world,” Carlson said. “We’re in Game 2 and I think me and Karl [Alzner] both felt that we didn’t really do all that we could out there.”

Assistant coach and ex-Caps defenseman Calle Johansson praised Carlson as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. But he spoke of a need to focus.

“Sometimes with John, maybe the game comes a little, almost, too easy,” Johansson said.

Johansson responds to Oates

First-year coach Adam Oates benched Marcus Johansson for the final 19 minutes Tuesday, saying the speedy winger wasn’t skating.

Given that it’s one of Johansson’s strengths, Oates looked elsewhere for a spark.

Johansson played only one shift for 50 seconds to start the third period.

“I didn’t play good, and I didn’t expect to play much more than that,” Johansson said. “The guys that play good [are] the guys that should play.”

Johansson was given the first crack at playing with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. That could change vs. Montreal as Oates tinkers with his lines after an 0-2 start.

“We’ll see,” Oates said. “We’re talking about it.”

Ice chips

Forward Brooks Laich (groin) did not skate with teammates Wednesday, as Oates had said earlier in the week was a possibility. “We’re just being very cautious with it,” Oates said. Defenseman Jack Hillen, who suffered an apparent shoulder injury Saturday night, skated briefly, which was somewhat surprising. Hillen is on injured reserve and listed as week-to-week.

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

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