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Philipp Grubauer shining as Braden Holtby’s backup

(AP Photo / Alex Brandon)

Being the backup to a goaltender who thrives on a lot of work isn’t an easy job. Philipp Grubauer has occasionally gone weeks without getting into a game, and even though he’s typically played in the Washington Capitals’ second game of their back-to-backs this season, even those appearances are questionable.

When Grubauer plays, he’s done well. He’s 5-3-1 this season with a .925 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average, and in the games he’s started, Washington has only scored more than two goals twice. Against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and especially against the New York Rangers on Sunday, Grubauer showed the value of a good backup, having to relieve Braden Holtby in both games.

“He’s just done a really good job,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said.

Holtby has been the league’s best goaltender this season, leading the league in wins, second in goals-against average and third in save percentage. Holtby also plays more games than any other goaltender, statistically sharper on fewer days rest. That means Grubauer’s appearances are fewer.

He was initially slated to start Sunday’s game against the Rangers with Holtby in net against the Sabres on Saturday night. But Holtby had allowed three goals through the first half of the game, and as an effort to change momentum, Trotz changed goaltenders. Grubauer made 12 saves and allowed just one goal in the 4-1 Capitals loss.

Because Holtby had only played half the game on Saturday night, Trotz started him on Sunday. Through nearly 40 minutes, Holtby appeared sharp, but after a Rangers goal late in the second period, he left the game because of dehydration. With the team not practicing on Monday, it’s unclear if Holtby will start Tuesday at the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Trotz indicated on Sunday night that Holtby’s dehydration was not serious and something the team would be monitoring.

“I think we’ve got it under control,” Trotz said. “He’ll be good. We’ll get him a day (off) here. He played one game in two days, and so did Grubi, so he should rebound pretty well. I think one of the things, when we practice, he stays out there and takes so many shots and goes out a lot of times a half-hour early. It probably just caught up to him a little bit.”

Grubauer played the rest of the game, making 11 saves in the shutout, coming off the bench cold for a second straight night. This time, the Capitals got the win, though it technically counts as Holtby’s. Grubauer said he wasn’t sure what happened with Holtby when he took himself out of the game since he wasn’t hit or anything.

“At that point, I can’t worry too much,” Grubauer said. “It’s not always nice to see something like that happen. You don’t always know how serious it is or what exactly happened.”

Justin Peters was Washington’s backup last season, and he had a 3-6-1 record with a .881 save percentage. When Holtby got ill in the playoffs, Grubauer was recalled from the American Hockey League and started against the Islanders in a playoff game over Peters. He won the backup role in training camp, with Peters now the top goaltender at Hershey.

Grubauer has continued to show he’s deserving of his elevated role. He has a $750,000 cap hit and isn’t a restricted free agent until after the 2016-17 season, by which point Grubauer could be ready to be a top goaltender elsewhere.

“We see him everyday,” Justin Williams said. “We see the talent that he has and the competitiveness that he has. To come in halfway through a game that you don’t think you’re playing in back-to-back days shows that he’s ready, mentally ready.”