In the wake of their first five-game losing streak since 2010, the Capitals placed defenseman Steve Oleksy and reassigned goalie Philipp Grubauer to Hershey. Teams have until noon Tuesday to claim Oleksy, who will likely join Grubauer in Hershey if he is unclaimed.
Grubauer “came up, played really well, gave us a little life, won some games,” Coach Adam Oates said of the decision to re-assign Grubauer. “We’d lost a few in a row … we’d lost that spark in a sense.”
Oates said the decision was based “more on losing” than on Grubauer’s play over the past two games — both Capitals losses from which Grubauer was pulled. The 22-year-old yielded six goals on the last 22 shots he faced, and lasted a combined 39:30 in those two starts before giving way to Braden Holtby.
“He got pulled in a couple games that wasn’t necessarily his fault,” Oates said, explaining that he told Grubauer to keep “working on his game” and that he’d “improved a lot.”
The move remedies the Capitals’ unorthodox roster conundrum. Washington has carried three goalies (Holtby, Grubauer, and Michal Neuvirth) for more than a month, a situation Oates described as “a little dysfunctional” given the limited practice reps and playing time available to three goalies.
Holtby said that while “you never want to see a teammate get sent down,” the move does alleviate the problems presented by the logjam in the Capitals’ net.
“That’s why teams carry two goalies,” Holtby said. “You get your net and you work on a lot of things, not only the physical aspects but also being comfortable seeing a lot of shots and getting more in shape through a whole practice. Just your mental strength, your endurance mentally to go through a whole drill focusing on every shot right to the end.”
Neuvirth, whose agent suggested his client might benefit from a move to a new organization in the midst of the three-goalie experiment, wouldn’t say whether or not Grubauer’s departure changes his situation enough to render a fresh start unnecessary.
“I don’t think about it,” Neuvirth said Monday. “My job is to play for the Washington Capitals. I’m focusing on playing for this team, and I don’t worry about anything else.”
Oates said he hasn’t decided who will assume the starting role with Grubauer out of the picture.
The casualty of the day’s second roster move, 27-year-old Oleksy suited up for 33 games for the Capitals this season, tallying two goals and eight assists for a beleaguered Washington defensive corps that needs reinforcement after conceding four or more goals in six of nine games this month.
With Oleksy’s almost certain departure (to Hershey, another NHL team, or elsewhere), the Capitals will have 21 active players on their roster as of tomorrow afternoon, meaning further roster moves are likely on the way: Washington would have two open roster spots entering tomorrow night’s home matchup with the Senators.