As a first-time head coach, Adam Oates acknowledges his philosophy on how to utilize goaltenders and make decisions about who starts likely will change with time.
Oates came from New Jersey, where the NHL’s career victories leader Martin Brodeur is the undisputed No. 1 netminder. But in Washington, he has Braden Holtby, a 23-year-old coming off a breakout performance in the 2012 playoffs, and Michal Neuvirth, a 24-year-old who wants stake his claim to the top spot on the depth chart as well.
“Forty-eight games, I think both guys are going to play a lot, and I would say when a guy is playing well, he should play,” Oates said. The competition between Holtby and Neuvirth is a “great situation to have, a luxury for a coach. I’m not experienced enough to know what’s right when it comes to that.”
Oates said he plans to lean on goaltending coaches Dave Prior and Olie Kolzig “a lot” for guidance. That said, Oates plans on keeping the lines of communication open with the goaltenders.
“I met with Michal the other day, and I said that very point where he’s going to get plenty of chances to play,” Oates said. “Your job is to play well. Playing well doesn’t always equal wins. A puck can ricochet off a defenseman’s skate and you lose a game but you played a great game. I’m smart enough to know that.”
When asked if he decided which goaltender would start Saturday’s season opener at Tampa Bay, Oates didn’t answer directly but offered an assessment.
“I would think that the guys expect Holts to be in the net, based on last year for sure,” Oates said.