Rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer gets the nod once again for the Capitals and will make his 12th start in 17 games Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center.
For as much as Washington has leaned on Grubauer recently, with 10 games in the next 18 days Coach Adam Oates said he plans on using all three goaltenders.
“Chances are they’re all going to play in the next little bit, Grubi’s going tonight and we’ll see about tomorrow [in Pittsburgh]. Chances are we’ll split but we’ll see tomorrow,” said Oates said. San Jose is “a very good team, I expect a lot of work for [Grubauer] so chances are we’ll split but you never know.”
The Sharks average the most shots per game in the league at 35.5, which is only slightly more than the Capitals allow (34.2). So it’s easy to see why Oates expects that Grubauer will be sufficiently tested on Tuesday night, but the coach wouldn’t rule out the possibility of playing the 22-year-old in Pittsburgh Wednesday either.
Grubauer has never faced the Penguins but here are the career numbers for the other two Capitals goaltenders against them: Braden Holtby is 0-4 with a .857 save percentage and 4.38 goals-against average, Michal Neuvirth is 2-0-2 with a .937 save percentage and 1.72 goals against average.
Not only is determining the starter on any given night important in terms of balancing the confidence levels and workloads of the three goaltenders but also because the Capitals can’t afford to make a wrong decision in a stretch that features five games against divisional opponents the rest of the month. As the Metropolitan Division grows tighter – second and seventh place are separated by four points; second and eighth by eight points – points are vital.
“It’s a tough thing but it’s the situation we’re in. You kind of don’t want it to be [a competition] because you have faith in all the guys but unfortunately for that position just it’s like everybody — they have tough nights,” Oates said. “Not everybody plays good every night and unfortunately for that position it’s more magnified. You want them to be able to get in a roll, get their confidence and you want to factor that all in but at the same time circumstances have dictated this.”
>> The Sharks are 16-1 against the Capitals in the two teams’ last 17 meetings. The lone loss was a 4-1 decision in Washington on Oct. 15, 2009.
>> A strong start will be critical for the Capitals. San Jose leads the league in first period goals with 51 and allows the fewest goals against in the opening frame (22).
>> Martin Erat and Steve Oleksy will be the healthy scratches once again among the forwards and defense, so no other lineup changes are expected for the Capitals.
>> Projected lineups for both teams.
Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Matt Nieto-Patrick Marleau-Tommy Wingels
Tyler Kennedy-Andrew Desjardins-Bracken Kearns
Eriah Hayes-John McCarthy-Mike Brown
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart-Justin Braun
Scott Hannan-Jason Demers
Antti Niemi is expected to start, Alex Stalock will back up.