For the past month, the Washington Capitals have juggled three goaltenders on their active roster.
In Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, the Capitals have three viable options, and that’s put them in a delicate situation.
“It’s not optimal,” coach Adam Oates said. “It’s not, because if there is one guy playing good, the other guys want their chance and they’re fighting for scraps in a sense. … It’s the way it is right now.”
The unexpected logjam began Nov. 29, when Neuvirth, scheduled to start that evening, suffered an ankle injury after stepping on a puck during warmups. Washington recalled Grubauer, its top goaltending prospect, the following day.
When Holtby struggled in early December, the 22-year-old rookie was summoned to the crease and has handled a heavy workload with aplomb, starting nine of the Capitals’ past 13 games. He is 5-2-3 with a 2.20 goals against average and .932 save percentage this season.
Yet as Grubauer found success, things became more complicated.
Holtby assumed an unfamiliar position on the bench, sitting out for two weeks before allowing five goals for the third consecutive start, this time on only 11 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday — the team’s fourth straight defeat.
After the game, Holtby acknowledged that his waning confidence needs to be rebuilt.
“You go through rough spots in years. It happens,” he said earlier this week. “You just keep working.”
Meanwhile, Neuvirth has not dressed for an NHL game since injuring himself in late November. He has expressed his desire to challenge for a starting job and his agent is actively seeking that opportunity for him elsewhere.
On Wednesday, Oates would not divulge who would start for tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Earlier this week, Oates made it clear that as coach, “I’m going to go with what I want,” which has traditionally been the hot hand.
As for the goalies, they know that their play is all they can control.
“We’re all pros,” Grubauer said. “We work hard, practice hard and that’s all we can do. It’s up to the coaches who plays or not. You’ve got to perform on the ice and that’s all that matters.”