When the Capitals and Penguins met for the first time on Feb. 3, Coach Adam Oates opted not to pull his starting goaltender. Oates left Braden Holtby in net to absorb the full 6-3 loss on Super Bowl Sunday, explaining afterward that, “He’s earned the right to stay in there and fight through this, and hopefully, we’ll rally and get some goals back for him.”
Thursday night in Washington’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins, however, Oates had a quick hook for starter Michal Neuvirth.
After a perfectly-placed power play goal by Evgeni Malkin and a soft, five-hole goal by Pascal Dupuis gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead 12 minutes and 49 seconds into the second period, Oates had seen enough. The 24-year-old gave up two goals on 11 shots in his seventh start of the season.
“You know what? I thought we were playing really good hockey and I just thought they were goals that kind of deflated us,” Oates said after the game. “In looking at them on the tape, I’m sure definitely one of the goals I’m sure Michal would want back. It kind of hurt us and we’ve been struggling and looking for just a change of momentum.”
Even Pittsburgh’s James Neal was surprised by the switch. “For sure. Those weren’t bad goals by any means,” he said. “Who knows? I know they’ve been struggling all season.”
The momentum change never came. The Penguins continued rolling, piling up goals against Holtby with little to no resistance from Washington.
“It’s the circumstances,” Holtby said when asked if it was tough to enter the game at a point where Pittsburgh was controlling the tempo and dominating the contest. “As a goalie, you have to be ready to do that and it seemed like that was the turning point. Though, it got even worse after I went in. We didn’t do enough to win.”
Holtby, who was 3-0-0 in his previous relief outings, allowed three goals on the first 11 shots he faced. Granted, two came on the power play but the 22-year-old said he could have stopped Neal’s tally that made it 3-1.
Neuvirth acknowledged the difficulty of sitting on the bench watching the onslaught continue.
“Obviously, I was mad at myself, but I got pulled,” Neuvirth said. “And I felt bad for Holtsy. He gave up the three goals.”
Oates said he didn’t regret making the switch in net, even though it didn’t change anything on the ice for Washington. He stressed that bad penalties, compounding mistakes and leaking “a little oil,” cost the Capitals again.
Given that Pittsburgh scored two goals on its first seven shots against Holtby, and the third and fourth tallies within 11 seconds of each other, Oates was asked if there was anything he could have done to try and stop the bleeding after the swap.
“The only other thing you got is timeout or change ’em back. But once again I didn’t think it was because we were playing bad. And you need a line to survive a shift and do some right things,” Oates said, citing Mike Ribeiro’s faceoff loss that led to Matt Cooke’s goal as an unacceptable mistake. “You put guys in that you count on and we made too many mistakes at a wrong time.”