Michal Neuvirth may have played 24 games for Sparta Praha in his native Czech Republic during the lockout, but that didn’t mean he didn’t need to make adjustments upon returning to North America.
Capitals goaltending coach Dave Prior was quick to let the 23-year-old know he needed to kick some bad habits to be ready for NHL action once again.
“When I showed up, Dave knew right away I was playing too deep [in the crease]. He called it ‘European hangover,’ ” Neuvirth said. “I worked at it, the puck’s hitting me, so that means I’m in the good positioning.”
Neuvirth will make his first start of the season for the Capitals on Thursday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center. He is 4-0-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .939 save percentage against the Canadiens all time.
While it was likely Neuvirth would have started one of Washington’s three games over the next four days regardless, the switch comes after Braden Holtby allowed 10 goals on 73 shots in the first two games of the year. Coach Adam Oates has made it clear that he intends to use both goaltenders over the course of the season.
“It’s 48 games and before the season I talked with the goalies,” Oates said. “My thought was Holts is gonna start and he’s gonna start the home opener, but I got to get Neuvy some games. So he gets his chance tomorrow.”
Thursday will mark Neuvirth’s first game in nearly a month. His last appearance came Dec. 30 with Sparta Praha; since then he’s returned to Washington, caught the flu and reworked his game under the watchful eye of Prior.
It might not be ideal to have that long of a layoff between games, but Neuvirth isn’t concerned.
“I feel cold, but, you know, this is job I pick and I gotta handle it,” Neuvirth said. “I’m trying to stay positive and happy. I felt good during the practice today and I’m ready to go.”