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Neuvirth salutes the crowd after being named the first star of the night. (Photo: Rob Carr)

Michal Neuvirth had been left behind in the Capitals goalie controversy. While Braden Holtby has struggled to find playing time, Neuvy hadn’t suited up for a game since November 29, when he got hurt stepping on the ice for warmups. Eventually, Neuvirth’s agent requested a trade. The status quo, though, continued. Philipp Grubauer got the starts, Holtby sat on the bench, and Neuvy watched from the press box. With little notice, Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave the Czech netminder a chance Friday.

“I was nervous as hell,” Neuvirth said of his thoughts before the game. “I was probably as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me ‘Just do what you do and try to be good.’”

“First time I step on the ice for warmup, I was feeling pretty good and confident,” he added.

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A Short Timeline of Capitals Players Requesting Trades

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Photo: Greg Fiume

Two thousand thirteen has been a year of reinvigoration for the Capitals. After a dreary start to the lockout-shortened season, the team began a Cinderella-story rally in March that carried the team into the playoffs and their captain into another MVP trophy. But the last few months have revealed a Capitals team that is not uniformly happy with their spots on the team. While new coach Adam Oates has made his stars happy, a number of lower-tiered players have grown discontent. Three players have requested trades in the last six weeks.

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Phillip Grubauer to Make 6th Start in 9 Games

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Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

For the seventh time in nine games, Philipp Grubauer will be in net for the Washington Capitals, his sixth start during that span. That means Braden Holtby, the Caps’ savior for the first two months of the season, will be watching from the bench once again. Michal Neuvirth continues to remain in limbo.

“He’s only played a couple games but I feel comfortable with him right now,” head coach Adam Oates said of Grubauer after the morning skate.

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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

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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 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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Just a quick item for your lunchtime perusal.

As Uncle Ted himself pointed out earlier, despite the Capitals in the top 5 in the league in goals for, they are currently are 20th in the league in goals against with 52.

That goals-against count comes despite strong numbers from the goalies. Braden Holtby is sporting a fantastic .922 save percentage, Michal Neuvirth a decent .913.

As that suggests, the Capitals are allowing lots of shots on goal. They are 25th in the league in allowing shots on goal during 5-on-5 in close-game situations.

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Missing Defense, Missing Teeth: Flames Drop Caps 5-2

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Look at these idiots. (Photo credit: Derek Leung)

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Hey!

Utterly stunning as it may be, the Washington Capitals came into Saturday’s late night bout against Calgary on a three game winning streak after a pair of 4-1 victories and shootout nail biter in Winnipeg. With a newly even record, the Caps looked to put themselves above .500 for the first time this year with a win against the lowly Flames. They didn’t.

Kris Russell scored just over a minute into the game after a horrid opening shift for the Caps. It didn’t get better. Jiri Hudler put the Flames up by two with some net crashing. Jason Chimera got one back for the Caps on a nice backhand shot in front. Mike Cammalleri, though, just continued the bloodletting. Holtby pulled, Holtby mad. In the second, the Caps were better. Aaron Volpatti‘s muffled wrister found the back of the net to put them within one heading into the final frame. That period was stupid. Cammalleri potted another. Curtis Glencross added one more. Flames drop Caps 5-2.

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