Photo credit: Mitchell Layton
Remember that possible goalie controversy? Well now there’s a new problem in the crease — and it isn’t pretty. After Tomas Vokoun re-injured his groin last week in Boston, the Caps have been forced to rely on Michal Neuvirth and call-up Braden Holtby. That’s not so bad considering Vokoun’s play before the setback. It’s Neuvy who’s hurt now, suffering a possibly devastating leg injury a quarter of the way into the second period Thursday night.
With the puck in the Capitals defensive zone, the Panthers’ Dmitry Kulikov fired a slapper on net. Twisting to get out from the way from the point blast, former Cap Marco Sturm fell onto Neuvirth, causing the young Czech netminder to bend backwards awkwardly. Replays appear to indicate Neuvirth’s left knee endured the damage, but our fake medical degrees are from eBay so we can’t be sure. Neuvy had already taken some hits lately, most notably two pucks to the noggin his last time out, but this one looks far more serious.
The Caps are so far keeping mum — Dale Hunter termed it a day-to-day lower-body injury and said the team will know more later Friday– but it’s hard not to fear the worst. So where do we go from here?
We’re inclined to believe — barring a magical, Newt Gingrich-esqe recovery for Mike — it’ll be Holtby and Hershey backup Dany Sabourin in net when Washington begins the playoffs next week against New York… or Boston… or New Jersey with the former not being let anywhere near the crease in the postseason. Prospect Philipp Grubauer was having a nice year down in South Carolina, but he’s on the mend after wrist surgery. We don’t even want to mention the Bears goalie situation if Sabourin does in fact get called up, but Darren Machesney looks to be the man.
Despite Holtby’s raw abilities — he’s 3-2-1 with a 2.79 goals against average and a .910 save percentage this season but has shown flashes of brilliance since Vokoun went down — the 22-year-old is untested in the playoffs. While Holtby was part of the Calder Cup-winning Bears squad in 2010, Neuvirth was the one who got nearly all the minutes. The Lloymindster, Saskatchewan native started for Hershey during their run for the Cup last year, but he was less than impressive as the Bears bowed out in six games. But now Holtby’s got his shot.
“We know that’s he’s a good goalie,” forward Troy Brouwer told reporters after the game. “He’s proven himself time and time again that he can play here.”
Still, Holtby doesn’t look to be relishing his newfound opportunity, not surprising given the circumstances around it.
“Vokey, Neuvy, Grubauer in South Carolina — it’s not a good thing,” said Holtby. “That’s how the cards are dealt and we’ve got to deal with what we have.”
Holtby acquitted himself pretty well after taking over after the starter hobbled to the bench in a painful scene, making some nice saves right off the bat while the Caps seemed to play with a new fire scoring two quick goals. He ended the night with 12 saves and two goals allowed.
“I don’t really ever feel 100 percent comfortable like you do when you play when you know you’re starting,” Holtby explained. “You basically just run off adrenaline and just battle as hard as you can. Your mindset of the technique and everything kind of go out the window. You just try and stop the puck, even if it’s not pretty.”
Said coach Dale Hunter: “We’ve got one goalie down already, then another one goes down. It’s one of those things, sports, something stupid happens like that. But Holtby came in and played great for us.”
Get well soon, Neuvy.
Photo credit: Mitchell Layton