Washington Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov is on schedule to be back in the lineup this week, Coach Bruce Boudreau said following Saturday morning’s abbreviated practice. Varlamov’s imminent return, however, necessitated reassigning goalie Braden Holtby to Hershey on the heels of a call-up stretch in which he contributed significantly to Washington’s upswing.
Holtby was named First Star of the Week on March 14 after going 4-0 with a 1.05 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage during the Capitals’ climb to second place in the Eastern Conference. The rookie stopped 110 of 114 shots that week, beginning with 20 saves in a 2-1 shootout win against Tampa Bay on March 7. One game later Holtby blanked Edmonton, 5-0, with 22 saves for his first NHL shutout.
The reassignment came the morning after goalie Michal Neuvirth stopped 33 shots in a 3-0 victory over New Jersey that was Washington’s 10th win in 11 games and seventh of eight on the road. That performance continued to solidify Neuvirth perhaps as the leading contender for the No. 1 spot when the playoffs begin in a little more than three weeks.
“Three goalies is never a good situation for practice time or anything else,” Boudreau said. “For people to think it makes the other guys better because there’s pressure, it doesn’t. It’s not a great situation, so we’d rather have [Holtby] playing full-time in Hershey and us doing what we have to do up here.”
Lately that’s been a lot of winning, regardless of who’s in goal. Barring an unforeseen setback, Varlamov gets a chance to add his name to that ledger this week at least once during the final three games of a six-game trip. He has missed the last 11 games with a knee injury but has been participating in practice for approximately one week.
Washington will take Sunday off before resuming preparations for Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia with substantial playoff ramifications. Philadelphia is atop the Eastern Conference with 96 points after its shootout victory over Dallas Saturday, while Washington has 94 points. The Flyers have two games in hand.
Boudreau would not specify which game he intends for Varlamov to play this week, but the most sensible scenario appears to be Thursday against Ottawa, which is in last place in the Eastern Conference. Neuvirth has started the past two games, stopping 65 of 68 shots and going 1-1.
While Neuvirth has the franchise record for most wins (23 and counting) by a rookie goalie and owns a team-high four shutouts this season, Varlamov is playoff tested. In 2008-09, he started 13 of 14 games in the postseason, logging two shutouts and five wins. Varlamov went 3-3 in the playoffs last season.
This season Varlamov is 10-8-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average. That’s fifth in the league, and his .923 save percentage is sixth.
“Varly was the starting goalie the last couple years” in the playoffs, Neuvirth said when asked if the No. 1 job was his to lose. “But I want to take his job from him, but we still have nine games left, and anything can happen.”
The Capitals continue to monitor the status of several other injured players during this interlude between road games. Among the most pressing concerns are second-line center Jason Arnott and defenseman Mike Green, neither of whom practiced on Saturday.
Arnott has missed the past three games and is listed as week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. Boudreau estimated Arnott could be back in “seven to 10 days,” although he wouldn’t rule out a lengthier absence.
Green, meantime, is eligible to come back from a concussion on Tuesday. He has missed 17 of 19 games after getting struck on the side of the head by a puck against Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.
“He’ll probably skate with us again on Monday, and it’s a day-to-day thing with him,” Boudreau said. “When he can play, he’ll play.”
Free agent right wing Garrett Mitchell signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals, the team announced. Mitchell, 19, was Washington’s sixth-round pick in 2009. He played this season with the Regina Pats, who concluded their season on Saturday night. Mitchell then was scheduled to report to Hershey, the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, on an amateur tryout agreement.