No one told Michal Neuvirth he wasn’t starting Monday night against the San Jose Sharks. Granted, no one told him he would be playing, either, but with Tomas Vokoun out with the flu and no other netminder at the morning skate Neuvirth believed he would play and prepared throughout the day as such.
When Neuvirth arrived at Verizon Center, he found out he wasn’t playing. Instead, Braden Holtby would make his first NHL appearance of the year.
“It is tough but what can I do? At least if I knew Holtsy was going to get the start -- but, you know, no one told me so I was getting prepared for the game,” Neuvirth said. “When I showed up, I found out I’m not playing. It’s tough to swallow.”
Coach Dale Hunter told reporters after the 5-3 loss to the Sharks, in which Holtby gave up five goals on 35 shots, that the reasoning behind the surprise start for the prospect was because of Neuvirth’s lack of experience with back-to-back games this year.
That argument didn’t seem to hold much water when considering Holtby played the night before in the AHL for the Hershey Bears and had to make the two and a half hour trip to Washington before the game. And after an optional practice on Tuesday, Hunter offered what seemed to be a more candid explanation for why Holtby started instead of Neuvirth.
“It’s one of those things that if he was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing? No,” Hunter said. “It’s always judged by how you play.”
Neuvirth made an unexpected start Sunday against the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers when Vokoun fell ill. The 23-year-old Czech stopped 25 of the 28 shots that came his way in Washington’s 3-2 loss to New York that day, and received praise from his teammates, who didn’t blame him for the loss.
When Vokoun didn’t feel well enough to skate Monday morning, it seemed as though Neuvirth would start on consecutive days for the first time this season.
Over his past four starts, which stretched over the 11 games prior to Monday’s tilt, Neuvirth went 1-2-1 including a shutout but stopped 113 of the 123 shots he faced for a .918 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average during that span.
Neuvirth has shown he can get on a roll when given the opportunity to play a string of games in a row. He hasn’t had that opportunity since mid-December, when he started five games straight, but was pulled after 11 minutes in that final contest after after allowing three goals on six shots in a 4-2 loss to Buffalo on Dec. 26.
Since being pulled in that contest against the Sabres, Neuvirth has appeared in five of the past 22 games.
“I was hoping to get the start and it didn’t happen,” Neuvirth said. “So, just gonna [be] working hard in practices and wait for another chance.”
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