The Capitals can’t be chained to their past. They need to start goaltender Philipp Grubauer in the playoffs.
Sorry Braden Holtby. Take your 29-30 postseason record and sit on the bench. It doesn’t matter that Holtby has been Washington’s soul between the pipes for the past six seasons. Since Feb. 1, Holtby has allowed 3.38 goals per game. The Caps can’t risk being outplayed by a hot goaltender when the postseason begins April 11.
Coach Barry Trotz has been content with rotating Holtby and Grubauer, and said he might continue the practice in the playoffs. But it’s time for a change. Grubauer was slated to start Thursday’s game against Nashville, which ended after Express’ deadline. He entered the contest with a 15-9-3 record. From Nov. 1 to Wednesday, he had been the NHL’s fifth-stingiest goalie, with a goals against average (GAA) of 2.29.
Defense becomes more important in the playoffs, and Grubauer gives Washington a better chance to advance into May than Holtby, whose confidence seems shaken.
Trotz hasn’t named a playoff starter, but playing Grubauer in the 3-1 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday to clinch the Metropolitan Division said enough.
If the coach is still deciding, he should refer to Washington history. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs benched quarterback Jay Schroeder at the start of the 1987 playoffs, and backup Doug Williams won Super Bowl MVP as Washington won its second Lombardi Trophy.
Last year, Nationals manager Dusty Baker elected to start veteran Jayson Werth in left field in the playoffs, a move made in deference to his seven-year service. Werth hit .167 over five games and lost a ball in the lights when the Nats were knocked out by the Cubs in a bizarre NLDS finale.
Even horse racing fans know not to bet on the one that earned you money last time. That’s a good way to go broke.
Holtby has had a great run with the Caps. At age 28, he has many productive days left. And he’s often been a money performer in the playoffs, posting an NHL-best 1.71 GAA in 2015 and 1.72 in 2016. But Holtby’s 2.47 GAA last year was his worst in five postseasons. And his 2.99 GAA this regular season is the worst year in his career.
Trotz will surely wrestle with the decision. It’s only his job at stake. After three straight second-round exits, the coach is already on thin ice.
Washington has spent six years developing Grubauer, a former fourth-round pick. It’s time to trust him in the playoffs.
Read more columns from Rick Snider: