Oates on goalie situation: "I just expect a good game"
Adam Oates has a very difficult decision to make heading into tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul [8 p.m., CSN].
Does he give rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer his sixth straight start despite losing the past three games? Or does he hand the ball to Braden Holtby, who has not started a game since Dec. 21?
It’s a tough call because Grubauer has played well in consecutive losses to Buffalo, Ottawa and Carolina, stopping 80 of 87 shots. Oates revealed on Friday that he planned on giving Holtby a start in Ottawa Monday night, but because Grubauer faced only 18 shots in Buffalo, he changed his mind and gave Grubauer the start against the Senators.
And when the 22-year-old rookie goalie stopped 35 of 37 shots, he rewarded him with his fifth straight start against Carolina on Thursday.
Oates knew that had to leave Holtby feeling a little left out, so he had a conversation with the 24-year-old netminder.
“You’ve got to be honest and fair and I try to be as much as possible,” Oates said. “I feel that I’ll do the same for him. If he plays [tonight against the Wild] and he loses but he plays a good game, we’ll come back with him in Tampa.
“They’re young guys and there is so much career ahead of them. They’re going to get their chance.”
To his credit, Holtby has been spending the past two weeks working with goaltending coaches Olie Kolzig and Scott Murray, refining some of the changes made to his game at the start of the season. Specifically, he’s working on tracking the puck better off the blades of shooters’ sticks. In four starts in December Holtby went 1-2-1 with a 4.92 GAA and .863 save percentage.
“There’s only that little, tiny split second where you can tell where it’s going,” Holtby said, “and if you’re off that little bit that’s when the puck goes in.”
Holtby said it’s been “frustrating” getting fewer reps with three goalies at practices, but he says he’s ready to be a difference maker whenever he gets back between the pipes.
“Whenever my chance is to help the team I’ll be ready,” Holtby said. “As a professional athlete you believe in yourself and that you can help the team out and win, but the main goal all the time is to win as a group. If you’re not playing and your team is improving and winning games there’s nothing to complain about.”
Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said Holtby has been pretty feisty at practice over the past few weeks, slashing and shooting pucks at teammates. Like everyone around the Capitals, he’s interested to see how this goalie carousel all plays out.
“Right now, with all the starts Grubi’s getting, you’ve got to consider him our No. 1 at the moment,” Brouwer said. “Guys are comfortable with that.
“When Holts is in net, guys are confident with him as well. We’re not really concerned about who’s starting. I’m assuming at some point they’re going to make a clear-cut decision who’s net it is going forward into the playoffs, but until then it’s always great to have a goaltending battle on your team.”
Lost in the goalie shuffle has been Michal Neuvirth, who has spent the past three years trying to reclaim claim the No. 1 job. Before Neuvirth’s last scheduled start on Nov. 29 he stepped on a puck and injured his ankle. He hasn’t started a game for the Caps since Nov. 22.
“Neuvy’s a good goalie,” Oates said. “He’s had some bad luck. It’s not our fault he had bad luck, though. The show goes on. He’s just got to wait his turn now.”