Caps fall 4-3 to rival Penguins
If today ends in a “y,” it must also include this question for Capitals coach Adam Oates: “Who’s in goal for the Caps’ next game?”
Heading into this week’s three games-in-four-nights set against the Sharks, Penguins and Blue Jackets, Oates said it was possible all three of his goalies would get the call, pitching rotation style.
But before Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss to the Penguins, a defeat in which Michal Neuvirth stopped 33 of 37 shots and Braden Holtby served as his backup, Oates appeared to be leaning toward rookie Philipp Grubauer when the Caps visit the Blue Jackets Friday night.
“I don’t have a plan,” Oates said with a chuckle. “The plan right now is Gruby has had good starts, so he’s got to be involved in the picture. He’s earned it. He’s a part of it.
“Right now, on a day-to-day basis, it’s kind of a feel. Who looks good? I want to get everybody involved when possible. We need wins.”
In 14 starts for the Capitals, Grubauer has been the most consistent of the three goalies. He is 6-2-5 with a 2.06 GAA and .936 save percentage. Neuvirth is now 3-4-1 with a 2.87 GAA and .913 save percentage, while Holtby is 13-11-2 with a 3.08 GAA and .910 save percentage.
Neuvirth, who lost his roster spot to Grubauer when he suffered a right ankle injury on Nov. 29, appeared to be shaken up on Wednesday night when Evgeni Malkin and Mike Green barreled into him with 9:41 remaining in the third period.
Neuvirth’s left ankle bent awkwardly against the goal post and he spent some time on his knees trying to recover. After the game he declined to comment on the play, calling it “unlucky.”
With 28 appearances, Holtby has earned the bulk of the playing time for the Caps this season, but he’s made just four starts in the Capitals’ last 18 games.
He was yanked after allowing three goals on eight shots in a comeback win over Tampa on Dec. 10, allowed five goals on 35 shots in a loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 17, allowed five goals on 37 shots in an overtime loss to New Jersey on Dec. 21, and allowed five goals on 11 shots in a loss to Minnesota on Jan. 4.
Clearly, this is not what Holtby envisioned when he entered this season as the Capitals’ clear-cut No. 1 goalie.
“No,” Oates said, “but you’ve also got to look at yourself. There are games I’m sure he wants a couple goals back.
“If he played phenomenal then he’d be more prominent in the mix. Every player has a tough night. The goaltender position is more magnified. Because of that, he’s got to work on his stuff and wait his turn. It’s not going to be one game. We don’t evaluate based on that. But just wait your turn.”
If Grubauer plays Friday night in Columbus, when will Holtby get that chance? Sunday night in New York, where Grubauer had a statement game in a 4-1 win over the Rangers on Dec. 8?
Tuesday night at home against the Ottawa Senators, who beat Grubauer in their last meeting? Time, and perhaps Neuvirth’s health, will decide.