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Neuvirth’s Injury Could Prove Costly – To Caps & Their Affiliates
On Thursday, the Capitals rose to the challenge in what was arguably their most important regular season game in four years, defeating the Florida Panthers, 4-2. The victory secured the team a playoff spot for the fifth consecutive year. However, this victory came with a price. Early in the second period, Michal Neuvirth injured his knee; the severity is still unknown. On the play, former Cap Marco Sturm fell on Neuvirth’s left knee and appeared to hyperextend it. He was officially listed as “doubtful to return,” and backup goalie Braden Holtby was required to finish the rest of the game.
Neuvirth will more than likely be listed as “day-to-day” as the playoffs near, but it appears that Holtby will start against the New York Rangers Saturday night in Manhattan. The Caps will be closing out the season in the Big Apple while attempting to clinch their fifth consecutive Southeast Division title. Should Neuvirth’s injury prove severe, it puts the Capitals in a precarious position going forward.
If Neuvirth is indeed off the table for the playoffs, the Caps will have to kick their current round of goaltender call-ups up another notch. Caps Outsider has explored the issue before, when Tomas Vokoun was injured in mid-March, and only minor elements have changed.
During the regular season, each team in the NHL is allowed two “Emergency Call Ups” per year in situations like this – good for up to 48 hours in cases such as short-term illness. The Caps have already used both of their emergency recalls, so that’s off the table, but they still have the option of a more standard injury recall. It’s playoff season, which means that nobody wants to undermine a lesser-tier team’s roster, but needs must – NHL is king, regardless of what a fanbase might think of playoff chances.
Dany Sabourin is the logical subject of such a recall (currently on a 2-way contract with the Capitals, and next in line on the call-up list), but moving him to the Caps will leave the Hershey Bears scrambling. Once the Caps enter the playoffs, roster and salary cap restrictions go out the window, at which point you can expect Sabourin to be a fixture until Neuvirth’s health is assured.
The effects of this injury will reverberate through the entire organization, especially if the Caps go into the playoffs with both Hershey goaltenders in net. Even with a 3-in-3 schedule this coming weekend, Hershey has some breathing room – they’ve already clinched a playoff berth, and won’t enter the post-season until April 17 at the earliest. At this point, all they’re doing is dueling the WBS Penguins for fourth in the East and home ice for the playoffs. It’s a good thing, since their current back-up is Neumann University senior Matt Tendler, who has now recorded 7 games on the bench for the Bears. Given Coach French’s reluctance to play him thusfar, it’s unlikely he’ll see much time down the stretch.
The South Carolina Stingrays, however, have no such luxury. A Sabourin call-up means that the Stingrays will be asked to send a replacement – likely Daren Machesney, who has recently returned to action and posted a 3-1-0 record in his post-injury starts – leaving them once again short-handed. Billy Sauer could also make an appearance in Hershey, but preferences run toward Machesney. The Stingrays are currently tied 1-1 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Gwinnett Gladiators, and are due to play their third game tomorrow night in the best-of-five contest. Another ATO (Amateur Try-Out) contract is likely in their immediate future when it comes to netminders (the ECHL cites “emergency conditions” as being when a team’s healthy roster falls below 2 goaltenders & 16 skaters), although there’s always the possibility they’ll just throw their play-by-play broadcaster into the fray if things get dicey.
Of course, all of this is contingent on the results of Neuvirth’s MRI (and Tomas Vokoun‘s health, although the latter is assumed to be done for the season). If he’s structurally sound, there are any number of stop-gap measures that can be taken to allow him to play in the post-season, but often it’s 48 hours before a solid diagnosis can be made in these cases. Knowing how tight-lipped the Capitals organization is when it comes to injuries, we can expect that nothing will be mentioned until action is taken. Stay tuned in the upcoming days to find out how the dominos fall, and rest assured that any outcome will lead to significant repercussions throughout the larger organization.
M. Richter contributed to this report.