The Washington Capitals intended for Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer to split starting responsibilities to end the regular season, but they might want to have both goaltenders placed in bubble wrap instead.
A day after the team got Holtby back into the lineup and healthy, Coach Barry Trotz revealed Grubauer suffered “a little tweak” against the New York Rangers on Monday night. Opting for caution so close to the postseason, the team recalled Pheonix Copley before Wednesday’s game against the Rangers. These last two weeks before the playoffs were supposed to provide clarity on who might be the top goaltender for the start of the postseason, but the recent rash of injuries has clouded the competition even more.
“Our goaltending situation is really up in the air right now because we’ve got little nicks,” Trotz said.
Grubauer played the whole game Monday, making 28 saves in a 4-2 win, but three goaltenders took the ice in Tuesday’s practice as Grubauer split the time in net with video coach Brett Leonhardt. Last week it was Holtby who was “day-to-day” with an apparent knee injury. He was scratched for two games as Copley served as Grubauer’s backup.
“We are going to recall Pheonix, just in case,” Trotz said before the move became official late Tuesday afternoon. “Trust me, we’re ultra-sensitive right now, so I’m not taking any chances on the goalies right now. That’s one area I’m not going to hesitate to bring Pheonix back.”
Holtby is expected to make his first start in more than a week Wednesday night, and Trotz said whether Grubauer or Copley serves as Holtby’s backup will depend on how Grubauer feels Wednesday morning. Holtby is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist who won the award two years ago, but he has struggled during the second half of this season. He went 2-5-2 with an .873 save percentage and a 4.62 goals against average in February, then was pulled for a third time in six starts against Anaheim earlier this month. He didn’t start for more than a week after that, which Trotz called a “reset.”
In the meantime, Grubauer has started twice as many games as Holtby this month, and he has a .938 save percentage with a 1.88 goals against average in his past 25 appearances.
“Grub’s been outstanding for a little while now,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “He always is, but just right now, I think we’re seeing a bigger sample size. He’s been our MVP the last month and a half here.”
Washington has avoided serious goaltending injuries under Trotz, and though the injury to Grubauer seems minor based on his participation in practice, it could offer Holtby an opportunity to reclaim the top spot in the tandem. A good barometer for which netminder will start in the playoffs will be who gets the start Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. The frequent playoff foes are once again battling at the top of the Metropolitan Division. It’s also the first game of a back-to-back set, so it would stand to reason that Trotz would want to play the goaltender he considers his No. 1 against Pittsburgh before playing the other in St. Louis the next night.
There is competition elsewhere in Washington’s lineup, as well. Trotz made some tweaks to the forward lines in practice Tuesday afternoon because he wants to experiment with different combinations before the playoffs. Winger Shane Gersich, who joined the team Friday after finishing his third season at the University of North Dakota, appears poised to make his NHL debut Wednesday night.
“We want to see him in,” Trotz said. “I think there’s a good possibility that either [Wednesday] or [Friday against] Carolina [he will play]. He’s getting closer, and I think he’s getting comfortable. …
“We’ll make any decision based on what we feel is the best lineup for the playoffs, and right now, quite honestly, I’m trying to figure out what will be our starting lineup.”
Here’s how Washington’s lineup looked in Tuesday’s practice:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Shane Gersich-Lars Eller-Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Brett Connolly
Extras: Jakub Vrana, Alex Chiasson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Jakub Jerabek
Extra: Christian Djoos
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