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With Washington Capitals management coaches someone deciding that it’s still a good idea to carry three goaltenders and ride a prospect’s hot hand, normal starter Braden Holtby rode the pine again. In fact, The Holtbeast has been benched for four of the Capitals’ last six games. Instead of sick split saves and fist pumps, we’ve been treated to images of Holtby sitting awkwardly in steel chairs and playing defense during practice.

Tonight, however, Holtby still managed to make an appearance during the game – though it was brief. And you had to really be looking for it.

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Braden Holtby Plays Defense During Practice (Photo)

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Photo credit: @Sydneyhasnever

The Washington Capitals are carrying three goaltenders right now. Why? Not sure. But with Philipp Grubauer earning another start tonight, Braden Holtby decided to take a shift or two on defense during this morning’s practice.

I’m in love with this photo right now. I’d take Holtby over Urbom any day of the week.

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Elsa

Photo credit: Elsa

Philipp Grubauer has played a little over five games of NHL hockey this season, and he’s been spectacular. Sporting a .940 save percentage, Grubi has been relied on to field a lot of pucks– 184 to be precise. Meanwhile, as Braden Holtby has struggled all December, there’s an understandable tendency to rank Grubauer above Holtby and dub him the team’s number-one goalie.

This would be unwise. In just six games of hockey, a .940 tell us very little. And in just six games of hockey, even the best goaltender in the world can look like a bum.

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There’s something about goalies hanging out in full gear away from the ice that is always funny. Like check out this Henrik Lundqvist commercial or Braden Holtby at Baltimore Arena. And now there’s this photo from Washington Capitals PR dude Pace Sagester. Above, check out Holtby and Michal Neuvirth smiling goofily for the camera.

You got goalie controversy on your mind because Philipp Grubauer is still on the team? Worried about Holtby’s last 10 days? Neuvy’s injury? Don’t sweat it. Here’s two dudes chilling in funny outfits, sitting in steel chairs, not a care in the world.

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

For the first two months of the season, Braden Holtby was the Capitals’ rock. While the team struggled 5-on-5, Holtby’s excellent goaltending — despite facing some of the highest shot totals in the league — kept the team in games. The 24-year-old started every night from late October to early December, a span of 13 games. The workload, though, eventually caught up with him. After allowing three goals early against the Carolina Hurricanes in December, Holtby was pulled. Enter a new rock: Philipp Grubauer. After being called up in place of the injured Michal Neuvirth, Grubauer has played in five of seven games, starting three. He’s picked up three wins, posting a .937 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.06. He narrowly missed his first career shutout earlier this month.

“I soak it all in just being up here,” Grubauer told me. “I’ve been through almost every league: East Coast, AHL. It’s tough to get up here, but once you get up here you gotta make sure you stay. I’m just happy to be up here, and I work my butt off.”

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Skinned: Canes Thump Caps 4-1

Canes

Photo credit: Rob Carr

The Capitals’ power play, the main factor behind Washington’s early wins, has dropped off. So, too, has their penalty kill. Still, the team is finding ways to win — barely. Though they got four points over the weekend, both games took extra time. Nevertheless, the team’s five-on-five play has been improving. Would it be enough to defeat the new old division rival Canes?

The Caps played well in the first, with Jason Chimera nearly converting early on a scrum in front to give Washington the lead. Carolina, though, struck first. After Eric Staal fed him the puck from behind the net, Hockey Bieber — that would be Jeff Skinner — took a shot from the goal line. Braden Holtby couldn’t make to the near post in time as the puck deflected in off his nether regions.

In the second, things got out of hand. Midway through the frame, lil’ Skinner was at it again with fly ball from the near circle. Less than three minutes later, the Hurricanes pushed the lead to three as Andre Sekera unleashed a blast from the point on the power play that Holtby never saw. Point number three for Skinner. Fifty-three seconds later, it got even uglier when Jiri Tlusty put a nasty backhand top shelf. Ugh.

For the final frame, enter Philip Grubauer. The Caps didn’t show much life in the third, but at least Mike Green got on board for the first time since the Obama administration with a power play marker. Nothing more. Canes thump Caps, 4-1.

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HOLTBY-SMASH

With under two minutes to go in the third period, the New York Islanders appeared to steal the game late from the Washington Capitals. As Thomas Vanek put a shot on Braden Holtby from the far corner, Kyle Okposo and John Tavares hacked at his gloved hand. Unfortunately for Holtby, Nate Schmidt jostled the puck loose from the Caps goaltender. Eventually, Vanek deposited the loose puck into the net.

Holtby was not pleased with the officials.

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Holtby Overtime: Caps Top Isles 3-2 (OT)

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Ballgame. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

Like the Bond marathon on SyFy over the last few days, the Washington Capitals are a fickle thing. Lately, the Caps have mixed the sublime elegance of the Sean Connery era with the confusing stupor of the Timothy Dalton movies. More often than not, it’s been the latter.

Plainly, they didn’t deserve to win yesterday’s game. Only the godlike brilliance of Eric Fehr kept the Caps from a fifth straight loss. They did win, however, and got their tired asses on a plane to hell Long Island this morning. With Braden Holtby making his second start in as many days, the setup for this one didn’t look good.

Washington’s start, however, was better than we’ve come to expect. Though New York handily outshot them early, the Caps controlled possession. The teams traded chances, with no one converting. Hey, that’s better than being 3-0 after 20!

As usual, the Caps got it going in the second. The period was filling with odd-man breaks and open looks for Washington, with the fourth line converting midway through the frame. Martin Erat – yes, that one — made a nice play behind the net before setting up the puck for Tom Wilson, who fired it on net. Aaron Volpatti did the net crashing thing to put the Caps on the board.

In the third, though, the Isles got the goal back — and they did on a Caps power play. Four minutes into the period, local pariah Mike Green missed a pinch and Cal Clutterbuck took the puck the other way on a breakaway. Yeah, it was awful. Then, Thomas Vanek gave the Isles the lead with some whacking in front, to Braden’s dismay. With less than two minutes left, this one looked over. HOWEVER… Nicklas Backstrom was stone cold clutch, converting in front with the Caps down a man. In overtime, the big Russian — that would be Alex Ovechkin — did his thing. Boom. Crazy times. Caps top Isles 3-2 (OT).

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Michal Neuvirth Injures Right Leg During Warm-Ups (Video)

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Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth was expected to play his eighth game of the season on Black Friday, but that did not happen. Neuvirth suffered an injury while skating out to the ice during warm-ups.

Speaking with Caps goaltending coach Olie Kolzig at the bench, Neuvirth pointed to his right knee. He was then helped off the ice and into the locker room, favoring his left leg.

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Festival of (Red) Lights: Sens Edge Caps 6-4

SensGoal

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

[Note: This recap is Chanukah-themed tonight. Why? Because there's literally no one on the Internet right now.]

Last week, there was only one way to describe the play of the Washington Capitals: shameful. After winning three straight, the Capitals allowed seven unanswered goals at Verizon Center, before showing some life late against Montreal. Saturday’s game, though, was markedly different. The Capitals still lost, but they put 50 shots on goal, Washington’s highest total since 2010. On the first night of Chanukah, the Caps looked to continue that output against the lowly Ottawa Senators. They did — at first.

It started with a sublime play by yelling person-cum-Jewish pun Michael Latta, who skated into the offensive zone, got tripped, and then pole vaulted over a Sens defender. The loose puck went to Eric Fehr, who unleashed a lovely wrist shot to put the Caps on the board. Ottawa tied it up less than a minute and a half  later, however, when Bobby Ryan tipped one past Braden Holtby on the man-advantage. However, Marcus Johansson whacked in a loose puck in front on the power play just 38 seconds after the Sens tally, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead. BUT WAIT! A mere 47 seconds later, Brooks Laich backhanded home a loose puck in front. Four goals in under five minutes. Whew!

The second period was all Sens. Chris Philips put them within one with a blast on the power play, before Colin Greening tied the game at three.

In the final frame Mika Zibanejad added another PP tally. Ugh. The game looked hopeless until John Carlson tied it late. Prepare to cry, though, because just over a minute later Zach Smith beat Mike Green and Nate Schmidt to win the ballgame. Ryan added an empty netter. Sad face. Vodka. Sens edge Caps 6-4

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