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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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Braden Holtby pegs mental fatigue, not physical, as the root of his struggles

Braden Holtby pegs mental fatigue, not physical, as the root of his struggles

It’s no secret what the biggest question surrounding the Washington Capitals is right now: What happened to Braden Holtby?

Since Feb. 2, Holtby has been pulled four times in 11 starts with a .872 save percentage and 4.45 GAA. For a goalie whose career has been marked by consistently great play and who has won a Vezina Trophy after being a finalist in each of the past two seasons, those are staggering numbers.

Now with Holtby set to make his first start since March 6, he sounds very confident that he has put those problems behind him.

“It was obviously good to clear your mind and step back,” Holtby said after Friday’s morning skate. “It makes it a lot better when we had success while that was going on. That makes it easier to just focus on regrouping and just working on a few things a couple days in practice.”


Some have speculated, including former Capitals goalie Brent Johnson, that perhaps fatigue was the cause of his struggles.

Since the 2014-15 season, no goalie has played in more games than Holtby’s 250. Even after Philipp Grubauer’s recent stretch of starts, Holtby still has played in six more games than the closest goalie, Boston netminder Tuukka Rask.

On Friday, Hotlby admitted there was some fatigue, but that it was all mental, not physical.

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” he said. “If you're fatigued physically, that's on you. That's not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up. Just that little extra fire that you have, sometimes you take things for granted and you go through the motions a bit, which you never want to do because we're in a pretty lucky situation playing in the NHL, but human nature kind of takes over sometimes.”

Holtby further explained his mental fatigue was from, “trying to be too perfect, trying to play outside my means I guess and that's something that never really goes well. I think just the adjustment from the start of the season until now, I think I was just putting a little bit too much pressure on myself and that usually wears on you and exhausts you in the end. I think that's a good lesson to learn.”

Luckily for Washington, Holtby’s current struggles have not hurt the team. Philipp Grubauer has been phenomenal in Holtby’s stead and, in fact, has statistically been one of the top netminders in the league.


Since Nov. 1, among goalies who have played at least 20 games, Grubauer’s .937 save percentage and 1.88 GAA both rank as the best in the NHL.

For some, this means there is now a goalie controversy in Washington. For Holtby, however, he actually now feels less pressure than before because of Grubauer’s success.

“[Grubauer’s] been outstanding for us,” Holtby said, “This little stretch here, he's held our team together and got us some key wins. That takes a lot of pressure off the rest of us.”

That may be surprising to hear considering Grubauer is making a legitimate case to be the team’s starter heading into the postseason. But Holtby isn’t thinking about that. In fact, thinking too much about the future is exactly why he struggled so much in the first place.

All Holtby is thinking about now is the game in front of him.

“I think tonight's more just the moment at hand,” he said. “Don't worry about past or future or whatever. It's just getting back to being comfortable out there and just playing. You're out there to compete and compete for your team and that's it.”

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Who's the Caps' No. 1 goalie? Watch who starts Sunday

Who's the Caps' No. 1 goalie? Watch who starts Sunday

Here’s what we know in terms of the Capital's netminding situation. Philipp Grubauer will start in Thursday’s game in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders, according to Barry Trotz. When the two teams come to Washington for the rematch on Friday, Braden Holtby will get the start.

After that, well, that’s when things become uncertain.

Braden Holtby has been the Capitals starting goalie for most of the season and really for most of the last six seasons. After struggling in recent weeks, however, Philipp Grubauer has been called upon and is running with his opportunity.


Since Dec. 1, no goalie in the NHL who has played in at least 15 games has a better save percentage than Grubauer's .945. None. He has started in each of the last three games for the Caps going 2-1-0 with a .950 save percentage and one shutout.

But if you think that means Grubauer has cemented himself as the No. 1, not so fast.

Following the back-to-back against the Islanders, Washington faces a huge game against the Philadelphia Flyers who currently sits just four points behind the Caps for first place in the Metropolitan Division and is a team Washington could face in the first round of the playoffs should Pittsburgh end up winning the division.

In a big game like that, you would expect the No. 1 goalie to start. Right now, Trotz is not sure who that is.


When asked if he had an idea for who he wanted to start in Sunday's game, Trotz answered no.

“We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

With both goalies set to play on Thursday and Friday, it's not a stretch to believe both will be competing for the top spot on the depth chart.

There will still be 10 games left in the regular season after Sunday’s game in Philadelphia. A lot can change between Sunday and those 10 games, but whoever starts that game against the Flyers will be a good indication of who Trotz has penciled in as the top netminder. At least for now.

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