Part of the limited game time is because the 25-year-old Czech fell ill in February and then again in early March, missing his opportunities for starts but it’s also a reflection of Coach Adam Oates’s confidence in Braden Holtby.
“It’s a first time situation for me, I always played a lot more than this year but it is what it is. I’m [a] pro and I’m trying to support Holtsy and the team” said Neuvirth, who has gone 2-4-1 with a .899 save percentage and 2.99 goals-against average. “I wish I play more but it is what it is. I gotta handle it, but I’m looking forward to next game.”
Neuvirth admitted it’s been a trying season. He’s trying to gauge his progress almost exclusively off of practices rather than game performances and isn’t used to sitting idle for lengthy stretches of time.
Oates said earlier this week that Neuvirth will start one of the Capitals’ back-to-back games this weekend, either at Buffalo on Saturday or Philadelphia on Sunday.
“Obviously it’s nice to get back in the net but it’s not going to be easy for me you know. Just play one game in a month. It’s pretty hard,” Neuvirth said. “Never been through this but it’s another good experience for me, hopefully it’s going to make me better in the long run.”
The inconsistent appearances and uneven performances are coming in the final year of Neuvirth’s current contract. Neuvirth, whose salary cap hit is $1.15 million this season, is slated to become a restricted free agent on July 5 and his ultimate goal of being a team’s top netminder hasn’t changed.
With Holtby’s rise into the top spot of the Capitals’ depth chart it’s unclear where Neuvirth fits into the team’s plans moving forward. For his part, Neuvirth said he isn’t focused about the possibility of being dealt by the April 3 trade deadline.
“I’m not worried about these things if something’s going to happen, if not. I’m just practicing hard to be ready,” Neuvirth said. “It’s my goal to be No. 1 — if not here, maybe somewhere else. Now I am here and I am focusing on playing for Capitals right now.”