“He’s a huge part of our team and obviously he’s feeling a little bit under the weather, but we’re expecting that he’s ready to go tonight,” forward Tom Wilson said.
“He’s expected to play tonight, so I wouldn’t think about it any other way,” defenseman John Carlson said.
“Well, right now, the plan’s Holts is going tonight,” backup Justin Peters said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get him ready to get him ready to go tonight, so that’s the plan right now.”
According to Coach Barry Trotz, Holtby missed Thursday’s optional skate for this very reason, and the Capitals saw little value in having Holtby tax himself the next morning with such a critical game around the bend. So they recalled Grubauer, who drove into town Thursday night. Holtby still attended meetings and “got a little bit of movement today,” Trotz said, but any on-ice work will come during pregame warmups.
“When you’re not feeling well, no sense draining yourself anymore,” Trotz said.
This season, Holtby tied a franchise record with 73 games played, including twice breaking the Capitals’ consecutive appearances mark and finishing the regular season with a club-record 25 straight starts. Endurance hadn’t been an issue then, and Trotz said this current illness wouldn’t be enough to keep Holtby from the lineup.
“Sometimes when you’re under the weather, you can be in that zone because you’re focusing,” Trotz said. “I’ve got to be good, I’ve got to be good, I’ve got to be good here, and you focus on one thing. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen players, had players where you didn’t think they were going to play and then they had incredible games. Injured guys and guys who have been sick. The mind’s a pretty good thing.”
Grubauer, who won his lone NHL appearance this season in a 3-2 shootout over Anaheim on Feb. 6, manned Holtby’s usual starter’s net at the morning skate and is expected to remain with the team through pregame warmups as a precautionary measure. He posted a 27-17-5 record in Hershey this season, including six shutouts that tied for third in the AHL. He also represented the Bears at the AHL All-Star game, winning the top goaltender award at the skills competition.
The Bears play at home Friday night in their penultimate game of the regular season, and are expected to start Pheonix Copley in Grubauer’s stead.
“Exciting to be here, be part of the team again, be in this playoff run,” Grubauer said. “I’ve never been part of this last couple years. Actually practicing with the team once is really nice.
“I played a lot in Hershey and we had a good run and we only have two games left until the playoffs start down there. It’s been fun to be a part of that team down there. I think we’ve all been really successful.”
Asked what specific ailment Holtby had, Trotz replied, “None of your business, really. But nice try.” Every single Capitals player who spoke with reporters said they expected the 25-year-old to play.
“His season shows what kind of workhorse he is and he battles every night for us,” forward Tom Wilson said. “He’s one of the best goalies in the league. He’s a huge part of our team and obviously he’s feeling a little bit under the weather, but we’re expecting that he’s ready to go tonight. I think it’d take him a lot to get out of the lineup. Maybe he goes down for his afternoon nap, wakes up feeling better. That’s the ideal situation.”
Wilson had missed three straight games with a head injury after taking a puck to the area behind his ear against Detroit. He progressed through concussion protocol, visiting with a specialist as recently as Wednesday. Friday, he worked with Curtis Glencross and Brooks Laich.
“I’m not going to tell you exactly when it happened, but it’s nice to keep you guys guessing a little bit,” Wilson said. “Yeah, I’m cleared now and ready to go. Kind of want to put that in the rearview.”
To accommodate Wilson, the Capitals will likely bump forward Michael Latta from the lineup. Their top-six forwards remained the same as from Game 1, but forward Jason Chimera moved to the left wing spot beside Eric Fehr and Jay Beagle.
“The last couple days I’ve been feeling great, so I had an idea I’d be in today,” Wilson said. “It really doesn’t change anything. I missed two, three, four games or whatever it was. It wasn’t ideal, but I’m just trying to get back in and bring my game and energy to the lineup and do whatever I can to help the guys.”