The morning of their home game against the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks, the Washington Capitals made their first significant goaltending move of the season, recalling Philipp Grubauer from their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey and slating him to start Friday at Verizon Center.
The move comes at a surprising and significant time. Backup Justin Peters is healthy, but has struggled in the second of back-to-back games; eight of his nine starts came in such situations. During his last appearance, Sunday’s 4-3 loss to St. Louis, he recorded a season-high 36 saves and faced 40 shots, which tied for Washington’s most allowed in 2014-15.
“That’s what I signed up for,” Peters said after. “These are the games I need to find a way to give the team a chance to win, to keep trying to earn those other starts. Nothing’s handed to you here, obviously. I just got to continue to try to prove myself, to try to give the team a chance to win, and instill confidence in the coaching staff that maybe they would give me a different start or something like that. But that’s out of my control. All I can control is trying to give the team a chance to win.”
By all accounts, the Capitals are testing a different option behind stalwart starter Braden Holtby, who has allowed one goal or fewer in four straight starts, including two shutouts over Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
The team indicated it would announce a “corresponding roster move” this afternoon. Coach Barry Trotz is scheduled to address reporters at Verizon Center at 5 p.m.
Rumblings of the move first surfaced before Washington polished off Ottawa in a 2-1 victory Thursday night, when Hershey announced the signing of goaltender Kenny Reiter to a tryout contract. Both Grubauer and Bears backup Pheonix Copley had practiced earlier that day, and the team didn’t provide an immediate reason.
Grubauer, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, last appeared for the Capitals on March 5, 2014, but hasn’t logged a full NHL game since consecutive 2-1 shootout losses to Buffalo and San Jose in mid-January. He is 16-9-4 with Hershey this season as its full-time starter, including four shutouts and a 2.03 goals against average.
Peters, meanwhile, was signed this offseason to a two-year, one-way deal, meant to provide a solid locker room presence and backup option to Holtby, but without threatening the starter’s confidence, which had taken a hit last season. Instead, he’s been hamstring by defensive zone errors committed by weary teammates, has struggled to contain rebounds and has allowed at least three goals in seven straight appearances.
After his postgame news conference Thursday night in Ottawa, Trotz said he wasn’t yet sure who would face the Anaheim Ducks, who in toppling Nashville that same night moved into sole possession of first in the Western Conference. Now, the answer is clear.