Holtby wants chance to be Caps' No. 1 again

Holtby wants chance to be Caps' No. 1 again
January 20, 2014, 3:30 pm
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Caps players know they need to take accountability

(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

Now that the Philipp Grubauer experiment has been put on hold – at least for the time being – what does it mean for Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth?

For one, it means plenty of more work for both goalies in practice and a better sense of predictability.

“Three goalies is not a good situation,” Capitals coach Adam Oates acknowledged on Monday. “We need one of those guys to step up and take it over.”

Holtby would appear to have the upper hand heading into Tuesday night’s home game against the Ottawa Senators. He’s been solid in each of his last two relief appearances, allowing three goals on 40 shots.

In 30 appearances for the Capitals, Holtby is 13-11-2 with a 3.04 GAA and .911 save percentage. In nine appearances this season Neuvirth is 3-4-1 with a 2.87 GAA and .913 save percentage.

Both netminders are probably feeling a little more at ease now that Grubauer poses less of a threat in Hershey.

“It’s a little dysfunctional for everybody,” Oates said. “It’s a situation that, unfortunately, just happened. They were all pros about it, but it’s a little dysfunctional.

RELATED: [Capitals send Grubauer back to Hershey]

“Don’t get hurt.”

That last little thought by Oates should not be taken lightly. Since becoming coach of the Capitals last season, Oates has seen Neuvirth get sick or injured three times before missing a scheduled start.

If Oates gives the ball to Holtby Tuesday night, his durability could be one of the reasons. Holtby said Monday’s practice felt more natural with two goalies sharing two nets and not having to rotate with Grubauer.

“That’s why teams carry two goalies,” he said. “You get your net and you work on a lot of things. Not only the physical aspect of seeing a lot of shots and getting more in shape through a full practice, but your mental strength, your endurance mentally.

“To go through a full practice, focusing on every shot, I noticed the attention span wasn’t there [on Monday] for the full drill. Getting a full practice definitely will be nice and I’m looking forward to it.”

Another nugget dropped by Oates on Monday was that he’d like to see Grubauer back with the Capitals, “hopefully, not too long.”

It’s worth noting that Neuvirth’s agent made his trade request when Grubauer was getting a series of starts while Neuvirth was healthy enough to play.

Does sending Grubauer back to Hershey diminish Neuvirth’s desire to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL? Probably not.

So there is still that underlying issue hanging over the Caps’ goalie situation. If nothing else, the Caps learned they have another goalie in the system capable of carrying the load in the NHL in much the same way they did with Holtby two seasons ago, when injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth opened the door for him to become a playoff starter.

“You never want to see a teammate sent down,” Holtby said Monday. “It’s everyone’s goal to play in the NHL and Gruby’s played very well for us. But that’s the way the game works. We’ve all been in that situation. You just hope he works hard in Hershey.”