Michal Neuvirth sat with his head in his hands Saturday in the visitors’ dressing room in Buffalo complaining of a sore jaw and teeth, still visibly shaken after a shot by Alex Ovechkin hit the bottom portion of his mask in the morning skate.
A day later Neuvirth still isn’t feeling well and the Capitals are guarding against the possibility that the 25-year-old netminder suffered a concussion.
Neuvirth was scheduled to start Sunday at the Philadelphia Flyers in the second half of back-to-back games but instead Braden Holtby will make an eighth consecutive start and Washington has recalled top goaltending prospect Philipp Grubauer to serve as his backup.
“We’re going to take precautions. He doesn’t feel great. The medical guys will handle what we’re supposed to do,” Coach Adam Oates said. Neuvirth “is probably okay, but if something bad happens we don’t want to put him in the net if he’s not a hundred percent.”
Oates referenced Pittsburgh star center Sidney Crosby taking a puck to the mouth Saturday and that Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged any time a player is struck by the puck in their head, concussions are a concern.
“I think it’s too soon to say it,” Oates said. “So we’re just going to keep him off today.”
Oates said the Capitals are planning for Neuvirth to travel with the team to Carolina. Grubauer, who was recalled under an emergency provision, is not expected to make the trip to Carolina but the Capitals could make room for him on the active roster if Neuvirth remains sidelined.
This marks the third game this season that Neuvirth was the planned starter but was unable to do so because of illness or injury. It’s the second time, coincidentally in Philadelphia again, that Holtby will make an unplanned appearance on what was supposed to be a day off for the 23-year-old.
“It’s a little hard obviously,” Oates said. “He probably won’t say it but for him maybe mentally he was ready for rest and all of a sudden he’s got to flip the switch and get back to prepare, which everybody goes through it in their life. He’ll handle it but psych-wise it can be a little difficult.”
Other lineup notes from the optional morning skate in Philadelphia:
>> Aaron Volpatti, who has been a healthy scratch for seven straight games, will play against the Flyers in place of Wojtek Wolski on the fourth line. Oates wants to add a little more grit against the Flyers. The rest of the forward lines will be the same as they were in Buffalo.
“Philly’s a little bit more physical,” Oates. “Just to get a little more physical presence just in case.”
>> Tomas Kundratek is indeed healthy and ready to play after suffering a sprained right MCL on March 14 at Carolina, which is why the Capitals took him off injured reserve Saturday. But Kundratek won’t play against the Flyers. Oates will be sticking with the same defensive pairings — Alzner-Green, Hillen-Carlson, Schultz-Oleksy — that he used in Buffalo.
“A little bit of balance, I don’t want to put a guy on his off side,” Oates said. “Schultzie’s played good, he did kind of what we asked of him yesterday in the media and I think he had a good solid game. Hopefully he doesn’t get taken out of the lineup.”
>> John Erskine will miss a 12th consecutive game since suffering what is believed to be an injured left hand or wrist but Oates is hoping he’ll be ready to be back in the lineup Tuesday at Carolina. Whenever Erskine is ready to be activated from injured reserve the Capitals will need to make a roster move to open up a spot on the 23-man active roster if he returns before the trade deadline.