Updated, 11:50 a.m.
The Capitals recalled goaltender Philipp Grubauer from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears Thursday morning because Michal Neuvirth is sick once again.
Grubauer, 21, is expected to back up Braden Holtby, who is slated to make his 11th straight start tonight when the Capitals host the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center. This is the second time in eight days that Grubauer has been recalled because Neuvirth has fallen ill.
Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer have also recently been sick, but Coach Adam Oates is optimistic it won’t continue to spread through the team.
“I hope it’s isolated; I hope it’s just because of wear and tear,” Oates said. “Immune systems are not what they should be because of conditioning problems from the beginning.”
Grubauer made his NHL debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 27, stopping all of the 14 shots he faced in a 33-minute relief effort in Washington’s 4-1 loss. He has not yet arrived in Washington, though, so video coach Brett Leonhardt is serving as the second goaltender during the morning skate in Arlington.
Neuvirth, 24, hasn’t played since Feb. 7 at Pittsburgh, when he was pulled after allowing two goals on 11 shots. Since Neuvirth last made an appearance, Holtby has become the Capitals unquestioned option in net, going 7-3-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .934 save percentage (286 of 307) in his past 10 starts.
At this stage it’s unclear if Neuvirth would be healthy enough to start either of Washington’s back-to-back games this weekend. Oates said he still wants to split the starts at the Islanders Saturday and against the Rangers Sunday between Holtby and whichever other goaltender is healthy.
“I’d still like to split them, whether it’s Grubauer or Neuvy,” Oates said, adding that he’s not overly concerned about Holtby being mentally fatigued. “I’m not so worried about it but it’s a lot of hockey for him.”
Holtby himself isn’t concerned about physical fatigue at all as he prepares to make his 11th straight start but he acknowledged that over the course of a season fending off mental fatigue requires a different type of effort on his part.
“That’s always the first thing to go. It always is. I think as a goaltender you notice it more because it’s more demanding as a goaltender, obviously everyone knows that,” Holtby said. “When you’re tired from flying back and forth, travel and whatnot it’s never really your body. You know the right things to do to make sure your body is feeling fine, it’s always your mental fatigue that some games you don’t want to play, you’re tired and you have to find a way to battle through that and make sure you can bring that focus to the table and that’s part of being a professional.”
Holtby said the mental fatigue usually creeps in during warmup or early in the first period, before he’s fully immersed in a game. He’s learned mental tricks over the course of his career to help hone his focus and fight off any doldrums.
As for his current workload, Holtby is happy to play every game if the Capitals ask him to.
“My mindset has always been I want to play every game and I shouldn’t get tired,” Holtby said. “If I played a whole season straight I believe I can play like the rest of the guys in here and keep my body in shape and mentally strong.”