October 1, 2020

Neuvirth doesn’t travel to Pittsburgh; Holtby recalled

The Washington Capitals recalled goalie Braden Holtby from AHL Hershey this morning in light of Michal Neuvirth not travelling with the team to Pittsburgh for tonight’s game against the Penguins.  Neuvirth is “day-to-day” with a lower body injury.

Braden Holtby during training camp (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The roster move probably signals a start for veteran Tomas Vokoun, who surrendered five goals on 28 shots in Monday night’s shootout win over Carolina.

According to reports from the morning skate in Pittsburgh, both Evgeni Malkin (lower body) and Sidney Crosby (concussion symptoms) took the ice for the Penguins.  Crosby has been practicing with the team and apparently cleared for contact as he continues his recovery from concussion symptoms.  It’s unclear — and unlikely — that he will dress for tonight’s game so quickly after being cleared, but we’ll update as more information becomes available.

What is certain is that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wants the Capitals to think both Crosby and Malkin are possible for the game tonight, an interesting little piece of gamesmanship for the third game of the NHL season.

Neuvirth misses practice; Boudreau shuffles lines

Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth missed Wednesday’s practice, calling into question his availability for Thursday’s matchup in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.  According to reports, Neuvirth suffered a minor off-ice injury and the team considers him “day-to-day” with a lower body injury.

Coach Bruce Boudreau said after practice that Neuvirth could still play tomorrow, or the team could recall Braden Holtby to back up Tomas Vokoun for the showdown with the Penguins.

Michal Neuvirth showing off his new red pads during warmups (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Neuvirth has been particularly effective against the Penguins in recent memory.  He enjoys an active shutout streak of 1:44.43 against Pittsburgh, pitching two February shutouts against them last season.Caps Director of Media Relations Sergey Kocharov suited up as the second goalie for the morning’s practice, following in the footsteps of former web producer Brett Leonhardt, who once dressed for a game when the Caps were without a backup at the start.  Kocharov has experience in these matter, having served as emergency practice goalie while serving in the Phoenix Coyotes media relations department before joining the Caps.

The other development from the morning’s practice was a shuffling of lines.  Boudreau moved Troy Brouwer to first line right wing and put Mike Knuble on the second line with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin.  Mathieu Perreault practiced on the fourth line with Matt Hendricks, Jeff Halpern and Jay Beagle.

Caps 2011-12 Preview: Trio of goalies an embarrassment of riches

Each day this week we’ll preview part of the Washington Capitals in our 2011-12 Season Preview.  Today, District Sports Page Editor-in-Chief Dave Nichols looks at the goaltenders.

Tomas Vokoun takes a break during training camp. (photo by Cheryl Nichols).

A funny thing happened on July 1, the day NHL free agency opened.  Capitals General Manager George McPhee traded former playoff goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first round pick in the 2012 entry draft, plus a conditional second round pick.  It was a coup of major proportion, especially for  a player that had, for all intent and purposes, told the team he would not play for them in the upcoming season.

That left the Caps with Michal Neuvirth, who had just completed a stellar first full campaign in the NHL, and Braden Holtby, talented but largely NHL-untested, as the two top goalies in the system.  McPhee professed at the time of the trade that he was supremely confident in both goalies and felt the deal was too good to pass up — and he was right.  Colorado could very well be one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, and the return of a top five overall pick in next year’s draft, widely regarded as being very deep, could be a huge boon for the franchise.

Hello Neuvy. (photo by Cheryl NIchols)

Then came the frenzy of free agent day, netting the Capitals Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik and Joel Ward, setting the Caps blogosphere buzzing with the news.  But McPhee wasn’t done yet.  In a move he described as the hockey gods smiling upon the team, the next day Tomas Vokoun’s agent contacted the Caps and let McPhee know his client would be interested in coming to D.C., and not on a multi-year deal either, but a ridiculously affordable, $1.5 million one-year contract.  Essentially, Vokoun dropped into McPhee’s lap at a serious discount because the veteran netminder felt this was his best shot at a Stanley Cup run, from which he would be sure to cash in if successful.

So the Caps now find themselves with an upgrade at the most demanding position on the ice.  Vokoun, 35, is routinely a top-five goalie, owning a lifetime 2.56 GAA and .917 save percentage in 13 seasons, playing for some dreadful Nashville and Florida teams.  Neuvirth, 23, went 27-12-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .914 save pct. in ’10-’11 while Holtby, 22, went 10-2-2 in 14 games with the big club last year, with a sparkling 1.79 GAA and .934 save pct

Braden Holtby during Caps training camp. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Vokoun is undeniably the starter.  His talent, veteran presence and determination to play for  a winner all put him at the top of the depth chart.  Neuvirth, who idolized Vokoun growing up in their native Czech Republic, wants the top spot and will play to prove it, but will start the season as Vokoun’s back-up.  Holtby was understandably bummed he went from NHLer one day, only to realize his future this season would be at AHL Hershey after Vokoun signed.  But he knows that another year of seasoning, with call-up duty with the Caps on occasion and perhaps a run at a Calder Cup in Chocolatetown, will be immeasurable in his overall development.

The team easily could have come into the season with the Neuvy/Holtby pair to start the season and made additions if they saw fit.  But in Vokoun, McPhee seized an opportunity to be pro-active and upgrade at a position that wasn’t even a priority.  Vokoun will bring his presence to the cage for the Caps.  Neuvirth and Holtby are both tremendously talented, and Vokoun is only on a one-year contract and is, after all, 35, so it’s not like the Caps are signalling that they are unhappy with their two young netminders.

It’s an embarrassment of riches for the team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season to have three goalies they can comfortably turn to at any time.

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