Adam Oates shook up the forward lines in response to a lackluster effort in Tuesday’s 4-0 loss against Carolina. After Wednesday’s practice, the first-year Capitals coach said his search for a spark heading into the second leg of a home-and-home with the Hurricanes will extend to the goaltenders, too.
Oates plans to give Michal Neuvirth his first start in net since Feb. 7 on Thursday night in Carolina rather than Braden Holtby, who has started 13 of the team’s past 14 games.
“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 [Neuvirth] gets it.”
Neuvirth made his last start in Pittsburgh, getting pulled for Holtby after allowing two goals on 11 shots in an eventual 5-2 loss. He made an appearance in relief on Sunday, allowing one goal in 28 minutes in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers.
Holtby had won five of six starts before disappointing efforts in his last two outings, part of the team’s current three-game losing streak.
After struggling in New York, the 23-year-old netminder allowed three goals in the first two periods against Carolina, including a fluke first-period goal to Joe Corvo that struck him in the mask. The loss dropped his personal record to 9-9 this season and the Capitals 10 points back of the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes.
“We’ve lost three in a row – That’s the bottom line,” Holtby said before Oates informed the media of his plans for Thursday. “Obviously, it’s not good enough. We need to be better. I need to be better in order to turn this around.”
Over the past month, Neuvirth has battled two separate illnesses, necessitating the NHL debut of 21-year-old Philipp Grubauer. The youngster came on in relief of Holtby last month in Philadelphia and then allowed five goals at the New York Islanders in a 5-2 loss.
Neuvirth, 24, was too sick to travel to each of those games but said he’s feeling “100 percent” healthy now.
“Obviously, it’s been a long time since I started,” Neuvirth said. “[I] practice hard. I’m feeling good in practice, but practice is not a game.”
In seven starts, Neuvirth has compiled a 1-4-1 record with a 2.98 goals against average and .890 save percentage. Five of those starts came consecutively from Jan. 24-31. Both statistics are worse than his career averages.
Neuvirth has not faced Carolina this season but has been strong against the Hurricanes in his career, posting a 3-1-1 record in five starts with a 2.66 goals against average and .913 save percentage. His first career shutout came in Raleigh on Oct. 28, 2010.
“Every game is a different story, and you’ve got to be ready,” Neuvirth said. “Every game goes a different way. Obviously, we have a tough schedule ahead of us, and we need to get some wins.”