ARLINGTON, Va. -- An injury for Semyon Varlamov allowed Michal Neuvirth to start the first few games of the 2010-11 season in net for the Washington Capitals. Neuvirth performed so well that coach Bruce Boudreau kept starting him even when Varlamov was ready to return.
But just as Varlamov's inability to join the pending goalie competition yielded playing time for Neuvirth, the roles may now be reversed. Neuvirth left Washington's game Tuesday night against Boston in the first period complaining of dizziness and a headache, and a team official said he had the flu.
Neuvirth said he did not feel well after completing practice Wednesday, so Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau may not have to choose between his 22-year-old netminders Thursday night when his team plays the Bruins at TD Garden.
Both of Washington's young goalies have played well when their bodies have allowed them to be in the lineup. Neuvirth is 4-2-0 with a .921 save percentage and 2.45 goals against average in his six appearances, though leaving less than 13 minutes in Tuesday night cost him a chance to make up for yielding 2 goals on 7 shots against the Bruins.
Varlamov was fantastic in Washington's first preseason game at Columbus, but then didn't play again until Tuesday because of a groin injury. He stopped 13 of 14 shots he faced after replacing Neuvirth.
"I think it is important for every team to have their goaltenders playing well, but I think it was imperative that both of these guys came into camp and were ready to play and focused," defenseman Mike Green said. "[Varlamov] is obviously just coming back, but the kid works hard. He's out there 45, 50 minutes after practice working, so it is good that they're focused and they're going to be a big part of our success down the road."
Added Tyler Sloan: "I think it is huge for this team. When you are young and getting used to the League and playing, confidence can be an issue sometimes. To have them both playing well early is great for us, but also for them for their confidence."
Performing well in a pinch is nothing new for Varlamov. He's replaced Jose Theodore in each of the past two postseasons for the Capitals and been one of Washington's best players.
Staying healthy has been a problem for the Russian netminder. He's missed the start of two of the past three seasons because of a groin injury, and he missed more than two months with groin and knee problems in 2009-10.
"It was a good test for him and he played great for us," Alex Ovechkin said. "I hope (Thursday) he is going to play better. It means a lot. Most important thing is they're going to play well and keep getting better. They just have to be healthy and it is going to be OK for everybody."
To this point Boudreau has only had to choose between them once, and Neuvirth made it easy on him with a sparkling effort the game before against Nashville. Eventually, though, the decisions will get tougher for the Capitals coach.
"I guess if both goaltenders are playing well we will probably just rotate them until it doesn't happen," Boudreau said. "When it starts getting into November you're getting into an awful lot of games and an awful lot of travel. That will be a great, tough question to have to answer two months from now."
Added Sloan: "I think at some point I'm sure one will be struggling but the other one probably won't as well. I don't think we'll have a point at all where both guys are struggling because they're both great goaltenders and great professionals."