Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth arrived at the Verizon Center Monday afternoon prepared to start that night's game against the San Jose Sharks.
Neuvirth was never actually told by head coach Dale Hunter that he would start for the second straight day, but with No.1 goalie Tomas Vokoun battling the flu and unable to take part in the morning skate, Neuvirth can be forgiven for assuming he would play in Vokoun's stead.
"No one told me anything," Neuvirth explained Tuesday, "so I just figured I haven't seen Tomas on the ice and I took the morning skate. I just figured I was going to play."
Upon arriving at the Verizon Center though, Neuvirth was told otherwise. The Capitals had recalled Braden Holtby from the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears earlier in the day, and the decision had been made that Holtby would make his NHL season debut.
"It is tough, but what can I do?" Neuvirth said. "At least if I knew 'Holtsy' was going to get the start, but, you know, no one told me, so I was getting prepared for the game. And when I showed up, I found out I was not playing. It was tough to swallow."
The Sharks beat the Capitals 5-3, with Holtby stopping 30 of 35 shots. The 22-year-old returned to Hershey Tuesday morning with Vokoun feeling well enough to return to practice.
Neuvirth's numbers this season have been rather mediocre -- a 6-9-3 record, a 3.07 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage -- but his play in recent weeks gave reason for optimism that the 23-year-old was growing more confident.
In his last four starts, including Sunday's 3-2 loss in New York, Neuvirth was 1-2-1, with a 2.50 GAA and .918 save percentage. He also had a 31-save shutout in Montreal Jan. 18. Hunter apparently wanted to see more.
"He's a professional," Hunter said of Neuvirth, "and it's one of those things where if he was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing? No. So it's always judged on how you play."
It's been nearly two months since Neuvirth last played at home -- a 4-1 win over Nashville on Dec. 20 -- and overall under Hunter, Neuvirth has started just twice at Verizon Center.
The Capitals begin a four-game road trip Friday against the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers. It's then a quick turnaround when the Caps visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Catch the Capitals and Florida Panthers Friday at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at FederalNewsRadio.com.
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