Goalie Semyon Varlamov continued his progress back from a knee injury with full participation in practice this morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Then underscoring that Varlamov’s return to the lineup is imminent, the club reassigned goalie Braden Holtby to Hershey of AHL.
The Capitals officially announced the move the morning after Michal Neuvirth stopped all 33 shots he faced in a 3-0 victory over New Jersey. It was the fourth shutout of the season for Neuvirth, who is making a strong bid to become the featured goalie when the playoffs begin. The Capitals have won 10 of 11 overall and seven of eight on the road.
Neuvirth originally yielded to Holtby after taking a puck off his helmet during the first period against Tampa Bay on March 7. Neuvirth remained in the game until the end of the period before Holtby took over and stopped all 21 shots to record the win in a shootout. Holtby went on to win his next four starts in a row, including shutting out Edmonton, 5-0, one game later by making 22 saves.
Holtby, 21, appeared in 13 games with a 9-2-2 record, a 1.95 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. He became the sixth goalie in team history to log his first NHL shutout in 10 games or fewer.
Holtby’s impressive showing compelled Coach Bruce Boudreau to say recently what had been a two-man match for the regular goalie job appeared to have become a three-person competition. But with Neuvirth seemingly in front for the No. 1 spot for the postseason coupled with Varlamov’s playoff experience, Holtby became expendable for now.
“Three goalies is never a good situation for practice time or anything else,” Boudreau said. “For people who 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 him playing full-time in Hershey and us doing what we have to do up here.”
The Capitals, meantime, continue to monitor the health of several other players in the final weeks of the season. Second-line center Jason Arnott did not practice again this morning because of an undisclosed injury, and neither did defenseman Mike Green, who is eligible to come back from a concussion on Tuesday when the Capitals play at Philadelphia.
Boudreau estimaed Arnott’s return in “seven to 10 days,” though he said it could be longer. Green, meantime, may skate with the team on Monday and remains day-to-day. He has missed 17 of 19 games after being hit on right side of his head by a puck against Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.
Forward Eric Fehr and defenseman Tom Poti, both on the mend from injury, did practice. Fehr is listed as day-to-day and Poti week-to-week.
Also absent from practice were forwards Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, both of whom took maintenance days.