Photo: Mike Carlson
For nearly two months, the Capitals have had a logjam in net. Called up in place of the injured Michal Neuvirth at the end of November, Philipp Grubauer became Washington’s number one netminder. A veteran of just two NHL games before this season, Grubauer posted the seventh highest save percentage in the league (.926), along with a record of 6-4-5 and a goals against average of 2.38.
Desperate for points, Caps head coach Adam Oates stuck with him, with Grubauer starting 14 of 20 games. Grubauer, though, came back to earth. The morning after being pulled for the second straight game — Washington’s fifth loss in a row — Grubauer was not on the ice for the day’s practice. The Caps quickly announced that he had been sent down to Hershey.
“We lost that spark in a sense,” Oates said of Grubauer’s recent losses. He didn’t blame the young German for them though.
“Three goalies is not a good situation,” Oates continued. “It’s a little dysfunctional for everybody, but it’s a situation that, unfortunately, just happened.”
Because of Oates’s decision to ride Grubauer, the other two goalies were left sulking. Neuvirth spent all of December in the press box, leading his agent to request a trade. The benching also cost Neuvirth a spot on the Czech Olympic team. Since then, Neuvy has played in two games. His first, on January 10, was brilliant, though he dropped off during Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh, allowing four goals. He has a record of 3-4-1 this season with a save percentage of .913 and a goals against average 2.87.
“I don’t think about it,” Neuvy said when asked if he had reconsidered the trade request. “My job is to play for Washington Capitals and I’m focusing on playing for this team and I don’t worry about anything else.”
“I’m pretty excited,” he added.
Braden Holtby saw more time in net than Neuvirth, though his returns to the lineup were uglier. He allowed five goals in three straight starts in place of Grubauer, before picking up his game lately after Grubauer’s early exits. The time off was also tough on Holtby, seen as the team’s number one netminder heading into the season. While he played well the first two months of the season, Holtby’s splits took a dive during the winter. He currently has a record of 13-11-2 with a save percentage of .911 and a GAA of 3.04.
“I felt more natural,” Holtby said of his recent play. “I felt more like myself out there which is good.”
Things should return to normal in Washington’s crease. Neuvy and Holts will battle for the number one spot. No one, certainly, wants to get in the game of predicting how that will turn out. Finally, though, both have their own net during practice. For games, one will start and the other will back up.
“That’s why teams carry two goalies,” Holtby said.
“We need one of those guys to step up and take it over,” added Oates.