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Braden Holtby gets some rest as Capitals tap Pheonix Copley to start against Jets

Pheonix Copley will get his first start in two weeks. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

With goaltender Braden Holtby playing arguably his best in net all season, there’s a natural temptation to just keep him rolling and only spell him when the Washington Capitals are playing in the second game of a back-to-back set. But Washington went into this season with the aim of keeping Holtby’s workload around last season’s 54 games. So even though the Capitals are hosting one of the Western Conference’s top teams, the Winnipeg Jets, on Sunday night, Holtby will be on the bench.

Pheonix Copley will get his first start in two weeks, and he fared well against the Jets in the teams’ first meeting in November, saving 21 of 23 shots in a 3-1 loss.

“[Holtby’s] played outstanding since the all-star break,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “His work has been at a high level, and we’ve got a lot of games coming up. So we had to, at some point, make a decision of when to play Pheonix, and we think that tonight’s the right night with the week we have ahead of us as well. We’re at home, and I hope that our team can play a little bit of a better team game than we did against New Jersey to give him some support. I think it’s the right time.”

This year’s Capitals are starting to look a lot like last year’s Capitals

Holtby started his fifth straight game against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, recording his third shutout of the season with 25 saves. Since the start of February, Holtby is 9-4-1 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. But with New Jersey near the bottom of the standings and missing several top players because of injury, that seemed like a more natural opponent to play Copley against. Copley’s next start after this will almost certainly be in New Jersey in the first game of a back-to-back set March 19. He’s 14-5-6 this season with a .901 save percentage and a 3.06 goals against average.

The Capitals have the league’s most challenging schedule remaining, with 10 of the final 14 games against teams in the mix to make the postseason, and the Jets are a good test after five of Washington’s past six opponents were teams out of playoff position.

“The balance of it, looking at setting up the rest of the week, different opponents, lots of things that go into it,” Reirden said. “For us, where we were at, we felt really good about Braden’s game, and I think sometimes when you’re playing against teams that aren’t going to be playoff teams sometimes, it’s a little bit of a wild card. And I thought it was fortunate that we played him because he won us the game. That was the right choice then, and we’ll see how Pheonix does tonight. I’m looking forward to watching it.”

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