ARLINGTON, Va. – Throughout his NHL career, Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth has seemingly been a victim of circumstance.
Over the past three seasons, the 25-year-old has received opportunities to stake his claim to the starting position, only for an unforeseen incident to derail him.
The latest such incident came Thursday when Neuvirth was scheduled to make his fourth straight start against the Winnipeg Jets, his longest streak since starting five straight between Jan. 24-31, 2013. But he fell ill before the game and in his place Braden Holtby made 34 saves in Washington's 4-2 victory.
As a result, Holtby will start on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. And with that, Neuvirth, who has started 53 games since the start of the 2011-12 season after starting 45 in 2010-11, seems to be back to square one.
"That's hockey," Neuvirth said. "People get hurt, people get sick and I really wanted to play, but I didn't feel good and I felt like I couldn't give my team 100 percent effort."
Earlier this season, Neuvirth was forced to miss a start against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 29 after stepping on a puck during pregame warmups.
That untimely injury forced the Capitals to recall Philipp Grubauer the following day, and the rookie's strong play left Neuvirth a healthy scratch. Neuvirth's hip flexor injury in April 2012 also triggered the emergence of Holtby prior to that season's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Hopefully it's something that won't continue to happen," coach Adam Oates said. "Like everybody, the guys who get snakebit with injuries, at some point, the show goes on. You've got to conquer it. Sometimes it's bad luck and hopefully it's behind him. It's hard because you lose your spot sometimes."
What may be working in Neuvirth's favor is that the Capitals' game on Saturday is their last before the League breaks for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, perhaps providing him with a clean slate when the team reconvenes.
In the Devils' crease, Cory Schneider will make his sixth straight start. He made 19 saves in New Jersey's 2-1 overtime victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.
The Capitals are mired in a seven-game winless streak (0-6-1) within the Metropolitan Division. They will look to avoid extending it to eight, which would be their longest intra-divisional winless streak since Jan. 22-March 26, 1978, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Here are the projected lineups for the Devils and Capitals:
Dainius Zubrus – Andrei Loktionov – Jaromir Jagr
Patrik Elias – Travis Zajac – Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier
Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Jon Merrill – Peter Harrold
Scratched: Jacob Josefson
Injured: Anton Volchenkov (lower body)
Martin Erat – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Marcus Johansson – Casey Wellman – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Brooks Laich – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Connor Carrick
Julien Brouillette – Patrick Wey
Scratched: John Erskine
Injured: Mikhail Grabovski (left ankle), Aaron Volpatti (upper body), Mike Green (concussion)