NEW YORK – On the second of back-to-back games and with second place in the Metropolitan Division on the line, the Capitals will start rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer Sunday against the Rangers.
This will be Grubauer’s second career start, the first came on March 9 at the Islanders, and fourth NHL appearance. Most recently, Grubauer made nine saves in a third-period relief effort on Dec. 3 in Washington’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Holts can’t play 80 in a row. I felt like he needs a break,” Coach Adam Oates said two hours before puck drop. “Holts can’t play them all. He needs a break. He’s played a lot of games so tonight’s a break and we’ve got confidence in Gruby.”
Holtby has appeared in 24 of the Capitals 29 games prior to Sunday’s game. Oates said he consulted with goaltending coach Olie Kolzig and opted to go with the 22-year-old German netminder, and said that the environment at Madison Square Garden isn’t causing him to have second thoughts.
“There’s no easy environment, we’ve got Tampa Tuesday night — it never ends. They played last night, both teams are a little tired maybe not as many shots but you know what there’s no easy night,” Oates said. “Sometimes you, I don’t want to say get a hunch, but you think it through. I know it’s a tough environment but then what isn’t? We’ve got to win at home, we’ve got to win on the road. Someone’s got to play every night.”
>> There could be one other potential lineup change, as Oates said the coaching staff was still weighing whether to play rookie Patrick Wey or Steve Oleksy on the third defensive pairing. There should be an indication during warmups as to which one will get the nod.
>> Brooks Laich will miss a fifth straight game with a strained right groin muscle. He did not make the trip to New York with the team but he did skate for the first time since Nov. 27 back in Arlington. There remains no timetable for his return, but Oates made it clear that Laich would need several days on the ice without suffering any setbacks before he can return to the lineup. In short, he won’t be in the lineup Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
>> Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who remains sidelined by a right ankle injury after stepping on a puck on Nov. 29, did not make the trip but skated Sunday back in Arlington as well. Neuvirth can be activated from injured reserve at any time.
>> Projected lineups for both teams
Mats Zuccarello-Brad Richards-Ryan Callahan
Rick Nash-Derek Stepan-Chris Kreider
J.T. Miller-Derick Brassard-Carl Hagelin
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Benoit Pouliot
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto-Anton Stralman
John Moore-Justin Falk
Henrik Lundqvist will start