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The goalie saga in Pittsburgh shows why trading Grubauer may not be such a good idea

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The goalie saga in Pittsburgh shows why trading Grubauer may not be such a good idea

Throughout the summer and the season, it has been assumed by many that the Caps hold a rather large trade chip in goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Washington has a Vezina-caliber starter in Braden Holtby who, at 28, is still in his prime. The team also has a future starter in Ilya Samsonov who is considered one of the best goaltending prospects in the world.

At 26, Grubauer wants to be a starting goalie somewhere and given his impressive 2016-17 campaign, he certainly looks like he is ready to take that step. Starting goaltending can be hard to find so it would not be surprising to see a team in need jump at the chance to trade for a budding starter.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins may make the Caps think twice about shopping Grubauer.

RELATED: LISTEN TO THE LATEST EPISODE OF THE CAPITALS FACEOFF PODCAST

While staring goalies can be hard to find, the situation in Pittsburgh may have taught teams another important lesson: consistent backup goaltending can also be hard to find and it may prove just as critical to a team’s success.

Matt Murray was drafted by the Penguins in 2012 and groomed to become the future starter behind Marc-Andre Fleury. In 2015-16, he played in 13 regular season games as the backup. When Fleury suffered a concussion on April 2 just before the playoffs, Murray was forced to take over as the starter that postseason. It was not an ideal situation, but it worked out for Pittsburgh as Murray started 21 games and led the team to a Stanley Cup.

Last season, the Penguins utilized both Fleury and Murray as a goalie tandem with Fleury getting 34 starts and Murray getting 47. This time, it was Murray who went down with an injury while warming up for Game 1 of the first round. Fleury started 15 games that postseason until Murray was able to return and helped guide the Penguins through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Where would the Penguins have been without their goalie tandem? Probably not hoisting the Stanley Cup in either season.

But the issue with Pittsburgh’s story is the fact that having two goalies of Fleury and Murray’s caliber on the roster is a luxury few teams can afford. Washington entered the 2017-18 season with a much thinner roster than in years past due to salary cap constraints. While keeping Grubauer would be ideal, it seems clear with Holtby and Samsonov in tow that his future as a starter will be somewhere other than in Washington. Surely that makes his value to the team higher as a trade asset, right?

Perhaps…if the Penguins did not recently provide yet another example of why having a backup like Grubauer is important.

Pittsburgh lost Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights over the summer in the expansion draft. As the full-time starter, Murray’s numbers this season have been the worst of his career (2.95 GAA, .906 save percentage). The Penguins also struggled initially to find a backup for him. Antti Niemi did not even last a month into the season before he was placed on waivers. Pittsburgh seems to have settled on Tristan Jarry for now, but the team’s goaltending situation is in flux with Murray is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.

MORE CAPITALS: WITH THE CAPS GETTING HEALTHY, THE PLAYERS ONCE AGAIN FIND THEMSELVES COMPETING FOR ROSTER SPOTS

Murray is considered week-to-week so it is not as if his season is over, but the Penguins’ goalie saga does provide a cautionary tale.

Where would the Caps be if, hypothetically, the team traded Grubauer and Holtby suffered an injury?

Granted, that possibility was always there. It is not as if Murray is the first starting goalie to ever suffer an injury, but seeing something happen can often resonate more than just knowing that it could.

For all those armchair GMs trying to figure out possible trade partners for Grubauer, you may want to think twice. Seeing the situation that is unfolding in Pittsburgh is a stark reminder of the dangers of relying so much on just one goalie.

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Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

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Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

The biggest storyline surrounding the Capitals coming out of the bye week is how much the team seems to hate lengthy breaks.

By now you probably have heard Washington has lost three straight out of the bye. In addition to that, there have been three stretches this season in which the Caps have had to wait at least five days for their next contest. They lost two of those three games and they did so in decisive fashion.

Caps played Oct. 21, lost next game on Oct. 26 at Vancouver 6-2
Caps played Nov. 25, lost next game on Nov. 30 vs. Los Angeles 5-2
Caps played Jan. 2, won next game vs. St. Louis 4-3 in overtime

This also is not a new problem. Coming out of the bye week last season, Washington lost its first two games back and then went on to lose eight of 14 before they finally got back on track.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS LAND IN THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS?

But why? Aren’t breaks in the schedule a good thing? After all, the bye week was negotiated for by the Players’ Association.

On Tuesday after practice, Barry Trotz tried to explain the difficulties of returning from the bye.

“The best way I can describe it is it's not different than someone going on a 2-week vacation. You come back to work and the first couple days, not really productive, right?

“You know how it is, when you get back, it's hard to get back in that routine.”

The bye week in hockey is different than what we see in football. In addition to no games, the players do not even practice. They do not get the benefit of a having a week of practice before the next game like in the NFL.

This year in Washington’s case, the Caps did not even get a chance to practice before returning to game action as they were forced to cancel practice the day before their game in New Jersey due to travel issues.

“You lose a little bit of that edge, a little bit of that sharpness,” Trotz said. “You lose a little bit of everything and then when it's over 20 guys, then all of a sudden it's difficult.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov also noted how the team struggles in January and February as an additional explanation.

“Physically we're pretty good and emotionally we're pretty good,” he said. “It's just those moments. If you look at the last 3 years I've been here, it's every year the same [expletive], same time. Always those 10-15 games in late January, early February it's always been wasn't great for us.”

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You do often hear about the “dog days” of a season when it suddenly becomes hard for teams to stay motivated every single night with half the season still to go. Now add in a bye week and you can understand why it may be hard for the players to ramp up the intensity level.

The added obstacle for Washington is they now face another break with the All-Star Game. Thursday’s game in Florida will be the team’s only game in a nine-day period.

With the Metropolitan Division standings as tight as they are, the Caps likely cannot afford another stretch of eight losses in 14 games like they suffered last year.

It’s interesting to see a team struggle after having too much time off. It’s a problem most people reading this probably wish they had. But it’s one that’s not quite as easy to overcome as you may think.

“I just think from the last couple years with the breaks in it, you understand that it's not just, hey you had a break, you should be fresh when you go on the ice,” Trotz said. “Unless you've played the game, it's hard to explain to people.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!