TAMPA – Coach Adam Oates will go back to rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer as the Capitals kick off this critical stretch of the schedule Thursday against the Lightning.
It will be Grubauer’s 10th start in the past 14 games as his strong play continues to complicate Washington’s depth chart in net. But with the Capitals having fallen out of a playoff position, they need wins.
“He’s come up and from the first game he’s played great. Given us a little bit of spark. He’s earned an opportunity to play games and I’m playing him,” Oates said. “A little bit of a dilemma right now with three guys. My attitude is it’s a long year and everyone’s going to get plenty of opportunities to play and when a guy’s playing pretty good I’ve got to play him.”
Grubauer stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced in a relief outing against the Lightning back on Dec. 10 as the Capitals rallied for a 6-5 shootout win.
Oates said the decision on which goaltender will start at home Friday against Toronto will depend, at least in part, on how Thursday’s contest plays out.
>> Martin Erat will sit out as a healthy scratch after appearing in 16 straight games while Aaron Volpatti will be back in the lineup as fourth-line left wing. The last time Erat was made a healthy scratch, a three-game stretch from Nov. 23-29, the veteran winger went public with his demand that the Capitals trade him.
Erat’s situation hasn’t changed since then; he still wants to be moved to another club but given his limited value – 15 assists and no goals in 39 games this season and requesting a trade for the second time in eight months – it’s unclear how strong of a market there is for the 32-year-old.
Asked why he was scratching Erat, Oates was short. “Coach’s decision,” he said.
>> Rookie defenseman Connor Carrick will make his first appearance with the Capitals since Oct. 5 after being summoned from AHL Hershey a day earlier. Carrick, 19, hasn’t played a game in North America at either level since Nov. 23 because of an upper-body injury but his strong performance for the United States in the 2014 World Junior Championships prompted the Capitals to bring him back into the mix.
“Watching him in the juniors I thought he played very well,” said Oates, acknowledging that Carrick’s skating ability is an asset against the Lightning. “I know [General Manager] George [McPhee] got an email from the coach [Don Lucia] and talked to the coach. They thought especially the last few games that he played great and it was very high tempo. Like to see what he can do.”
Steve Oleksy will sit out as a healthy scratch against Tampa Bay to make room for Carrick in the lineup.
While he hasn’t seen consistent game action since late November, Carrick said the World Junior tournament helped him get back into the rhythm of competition after sitting out for several weeks with the injury.
“I was a little banged up so I got to get three exhibition games, throw away games that didn’t really count for much. Good to get back into the flow of it,” Carrick said. “International hockey’s a lot different but it’s good experience and I think it helps my development. It’s a good experience to have.”
>> Here are the projected lineups for both teams.
Martin St. Louis-Tyler Johnson-Ondrej Palat
Alex Killorn-Valtteri Filppula-Teddy Purcell
Nikita Kucherov-Nate Thompson-B.J. Crombeen/Richard Panik
Ryan Malone-Tom Pyatt
Matt Carle-Radko Gudas
Victor Hedman-Andrej Sustr
Eric Brewer-Sami Salo
Anders Lindback is expected to start, Cedrick Desjardins will back up.