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Photo: Joel Auerbach

The trade deadline got really difficult for some Caps fans on Wednesday when long-time goalie Michal Neuvirth was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres for Jaroslav Halak. It’s understandable if some fans got attached over the years. Neuvirth won Calder Cups in AHL Hershey, honored Olie Kolzig by having an image of him painted on the side of his mask, and forever challenged our assumptions of what a smile is.

But more than that, Neuvy was a homegrown prospect who worked his tush off to make it to the big league team and succeed. Let’s just forget about that one bad interview he did.

On Friday night, Neuvirth took the ice for the first time with the Buffalo Sabres. And it was super weird. Wearing his Capitals-themed mask, Capitals colored pads and gloves, and red, white, and blue stick, Neuvy made 42 saves (one off his career high) in the Sabres 2-0 loss to Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers.

Have I mentioned it was weird?

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gmgm

Photo: Mark Buckner

(Photo: Mark Buckner)

Coming into the 2014 NHL trade deadline, some fans feared Caps general manager George McPhee would make a drastic move in the hopes of securing a playoff spot. Instead, he made three reasonable ones. The Caps got better this year without harming themselves in the future.

The biggest deal was the final one, with the Caps sending Michal Neuvirth and the newly acquired Rostislav Klesla to the Buffalo Sabres for Caps killer Jaroslav Halak and a third-round pick.

“I think we start with Neuvirth, and he wasn’t happy being a number two,” McPhee told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “We tried to accommodate him. We brought in an experienced guy. I think it’s an upgrade on the tandem which is what we wanted to accomplish.”

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Photo: @a0gr8

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin just shared the last photo you’ll ever see of Michal Neuvirth and Martin Erat as Capitals.

“Last dinner with boys, and they gone!!” Ovi wrote on Instagram. “Good luck to them, and welcome new players to the team!” Neuvy is now off to Buffalo, where more playing time and opportunity await, and Erat to Phoenix, where at least it’s warmer.

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Michal Neuvirth has started the last three Caps games, inserting himself back into the Capitals goalie picture after not playing for a month and requesting a trade on December 29th. In the last week, Neuvirth has made big save after big save, keeping a defensively inept Caps team capably backstopped in all three starts. The team went 1-1-1 in those games.

Early in the third period of Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, Neuvirth showed off some fantastic lateral movement, robbing Frans Nielsen on a clear one-timer.

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George McPhee Bruce Bennett

Photo: Bruce Bennett

On Sunday, Joe Micheletti of NBC Sports reported a quote from George McPhee that has been making the rounds. Except it’s not really a quote actually– just hearsay. According to Micheletti, GMGM said that the Washington Capitals would have ten more standings points if only they had better goaltending this season. McPhee declined to elaborate on that little piece of apocrypha on Monday, and the team didn’t get back to us when we asked about its veracity.

Katie Carrera of the Washington Post ran a wonderful piece about it on Monday. My favorite part was this quote by Braden Holtby:

“I think if we pay any attention to comments like that it brings the team apart.”

For perspective: That is a goalie talking about his employer, whose words might tear the team apart.

So… that’s not good.

I would like to set Braden’s mind at ease. If George McPhee actually said that (and I’m not sure he did), he’d be categorically wrong.

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Michal Neuvirth may not have played very much this season. And sure, maybe he missed an entire month of action because he stepped on a puck going out for warm-ups. But dang it, tonight things were going to change, and he was not going to let anybody ruin it.

Case in point, his first period save on Gustav Nyquist. It was incredible.

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Grubauer's vacant locker at Kettler (Photo: Chris Gordon)

Grubauer’s vacant locker at Kettler (Photo: Chris Gordon)

Photo: Mike Carlson

For nearly two months, the Capitals have had a logjam in net. Called up in place of the injured Michal Neuvirth at the end of November, Philipp Grubauer became Washington’s number one netminder. A veteran of just two NHL games before this season, Grubauer posted the seventh highest save percentage in the league (.926), along with a record of 6-4-5 and a goals against average of 2.38.

Desperate for points, Caps head coach Adam Oates stuck with him, with Grubauer starting 14 of 20 games. Grubauer, though, came back to earth. The morning after being pulled for the second straight game — Washington’s fifth loss in a row — Grubauer was not on the ice for the day’s practice. The Caps quickly announced that he had been sent down to Hershey.

“We lost that spark in a sense,” Oates said of Grubauer’s recent losses. He didn’t blame the young German for them though.

“Three goalies is not a good situation,” Oates continued. “It’s a little dysfunctional for everybody, but it’s a situation that, unfortunately, just happened.”

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Neuvirth salutes the crowd after being named the first star of the night. (Photo: Rob Carr)

Michal Neuvirth had been left behind in the Capitals goalie controversy. While Braden Holtby has struggled to find playing time, Neuvy hadn’t suited up for a game since November 29, when he got hurt stepping on the ice for warmups. Eventually, Neuvirth’s agent requested a trade. The status quo, though, continued. Philipp Grubauer got the starts, Holtby sat on the bench, and Neuvy watched from the press box. With little notice, Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave the Czech netminder a chance Friday.

“I was nervous as hell,” Neuvirth said of his thoughts before the game. “I was probably as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me ‘Just do what you do and try to be good.’”

“First time I step on the ice for warmup, I was feeling pretty good and confident,” he added.

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A Short Timeline of Capitals Players Requesting Trades

OatesTrades

Photo: Greg Fiume

Two thousand thirteen has been a year of reinvigoration for the Capitals. After a dreary start to the lockout-shortened season, the team began a Cinderella-story rally in March that carried the team into the playoffs and their captain into another MVP trophy. But the last few months have revealed a Capitals team that is not uniformly happy with their spots on the team. While new coach Adam Oates has made his stars happy, a number of lower-tiered players have grown discontent. Three players have requested trades in the last six weeks.

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Phillip Grubauer to Make 6th Start in 9 Games

Grubauer

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

For the seventh time in nine games, Philipp Grubauer will be in net for the Washington Capitals, his sixth start during that span. That means Braden Holtby, the Caps’ savior for the first two months of the season, will be watching from the bench once again. Michal Neuvirth continues to remain in limbo.

“He’s only played a couple games but I feel comfortable with him right now,” head coach Adam Oates said of Grubauer after the morning skate.

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