Exactly seven weeks since he last played in a game, Michal Neuvirth will start for the Captials against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night at Verizon Center.
“Need a split [of back-to-backs] and he hasn’t played in a long time. It’s his turn,” Coach Adam Oates said. “It’s been a long time. Hopefully he has a good game. He’s had a lot of shots, a lot of practice time — just looking for a good game.”
So much has changed for the Capitals’ highest paid goaltender ($2.5 million) since he last appeared in net Nov. 22. A week after finishing with 28 saves in that 3-2 loss to Montreal, Neuvirth stepped on a puck and twisted his ankle sidelining himself for two weeks and opening the door for Philipp Grubauer to further complicate the depth chart with his strong play.
Neuvirth’s agent, Patrik Stefan, has also publicly requested that the Capitals trade his client. If Washington is trying to oblige the goaltender and his agent, the best way to increase the 25-year-old’s value is to play him.
This is an interesting spot for Neuvirth. While Toronto has lost three straight and was just embarrassed in a 6-1 loss at Carolina on Thursday, the Capitals are also playing in the second of back-to-back games. At some point the players in front of Neuvirth, who sat out as a healthy scratch each of the last 11 games, may show the effects of having played a late and intense contest the night before.
“It’s one of those things it makes for a tough job and every goalie at some point in their career goes through that,” Oates said acknowledging that it will be a challenge for Neuvirth to get back into the flow of things after such a lengthy layoff. “Just being rusty. It’s been a long time for a game and then the speed of it you can only simulate so much in practice.”
Braden Holtby will back up Neuvirth, Oates said. So Philipp Grubauer will get the night off in the press box. There are no other lineup changes for the Capitals from Thursday’s win in Tampa Bay.