PITTSBURGH — Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz has denied he has a “goaltending controversy,” but in a game that could win Washington the Metropolitan Division title for a third straight year, Trotz will start Philipp Grubauer against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night, perhaps showing how much confidence he has in the netminder once considered the Capitals’ No. 2.
Trotz said starting Grubauer rather than Braden Holtby is related to keeping both goaltenders rotating, as they’ve largely alternated over the past month, and it’s not an indication that Trotz intends to play Grubauer in the playoffs. Holtby will start in St. Louis in the second game of the back-to-back set Monday night.
“Really just staying with the plan of getting both our goalies ready for the playoffs,” Trotz said Sunday. “Philipp hasn’t had a start [in Pittsburgh]. I think it’s a good opportunity. He’s played well, and Holts is in tomorrow. With the injuries that we’ve had, we feel we can get both guys going. There hasn’t been much of a difference between the two of them, so we’re going that way. We’re going to need both goalies, and they’re both playing good right now, so I’m very happy with our goaltending situation.”
The Capitals moved to a goaltending rotation after Holtby struggled through February — posting an .873 save percentage and a 4.52 goals against average in nine games — and then was pulled from a start in Anaheim on March 6, the third time he had been yanked from net in his past six starts. Washington then turned to Grubauer for four straight games, allowing Holtby a “reset” so he could work through what had caused the decline in play. But Grubauer impressed, so outside of each goaltender missing a pair of games because of a minor injury recently, Trotz has flipped back and forth between them.
This marks Grubauer’s ninth start since the start of March, while Holtby has started six games in that span. In 52 games this season, Holtby has a 32-16-4 record with a 3.01 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. Grubauer has a 14-9-3 record in 33 appearances with a 2.34 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Since late November, Grubauer’s numbers are the best in the NHL: a .938 save percentage and 1.68 goals against average in 25 games.
It’s notable that in a back-to-back situation in which the Capitals would have split the goaltenders over the two games, Trotz chose to go with Grubauer against the division rival. A regulation win secures first place in the division for Washington. With Holtby starting every game against Pittsburgh over the past three seasons, perhaps Trotz is curious to see how Grubauer would fare against the Penguins.
“Just another game,” Grubauer said. “There’s too much going on around it, so you’ve got to focus on one thing, and that’s my goal — next puck, next shot, next situation. And that’s where I’m going from. … I don’t know if I need to prove myself. I just want to be solid for the guys back there.”
Here’s how Washington’s lineup will look against Pittsburgh:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Brett Connolly
Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Shane Gersich
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Jakub Jerabek
Scratch: Christian Djoos
Philipp Grubauer (starter)
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