With Michal Neuvirth still sidelined with an illness and the Capitals facing back-to-back games against the Islanders and Rangers on Saturday and Sunday, will 21-year-old rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer make his first NHL start this weekend?
“We’re still deciding, quite honestly,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “Yeah, there’s a good chance.”
Oates said Neuvirth told Caps athletic trainer Greg Smith that he’s feeling better but that he’s not 100 percent. He will not make the team’s trip to Uniondale for Saturday’s 1 p.m. puck drop at Nassau Coliseum.
The question facing Oates is whether to play Grubauer Saturday on Long Island and Braden Holtby Sunday at home against the Rangers, or vice versa.
“Holts is definitely going to play one of the two on the weekend,” Oates said. “We’re just trying to figure out rest.”
Holtby, who is 8-3-0 in 11 straight starts, said he’s fine with whatever Oates decides.
Grubauer, whose only NHL action came in shutout relief of Holtby in Philadelphia on Feb. 27, was asked how he’d feel about getting his first NHL start.
“It would be awesome,” Grubauer said.
Oates said he’s trying to do what’s best for his team and for Grubauer, especially after seeing what happened Thursday night when the Caps chased rookie goaltender Jacob Markstrom with two goals on two shots.
“The headline on NHL.com yesterday was, ‘The Markstrom Era Begins,’ right?” Oates said. “It was a tough start.”
Saturday would seem the more likely of the two games for Grubauer to get the call, but the Islanders are no longer an easy target. The Isles [10-11-3] are 10th in the Eastern Conference with 23 points, two more than the Caps [10-11-1].
The Rangers [12-8-2] are holding the eighth and final playoff spot with 26 points.
Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said it would be “great” to see Grubauer get his first start “and not get thrown into a four-goal deficit” like he did in Philadelphia.
“He fits in well,” Brouwer said. “He wasn’t shy, he wasn’t intimidated at all. Goalies are kind of their own breed but he has that subtle confidence to him that he knows he can step in and do the job.”