Pheonix Copley

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.

RELATED: BARRY TROTZ GIVES THUMBS UP ON SUGGESTED GOALIE INTERFERENCE RULE CHANGE

Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.

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

The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Pheonix Copley is back from injury and that's good news for the Caps' goalie depth

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Pheonix Copley is back from injury and that's good news for the Caps' goalie depth

Highly-regarded goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley is expected to be back in the nets for Hershey on Friday when the Bears play in Rochester.

That, obviously, is good news for Capitals’ minor league affiliate. But it’s important for the big club, too.

Why?

Because for the past few weeks, Washington was an injury or illness to Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer away from being forced to dip deep into their system for help at the game’s most important position.

RELATED: CAPS' PENALTY KILL WASN'T GREAT BUT GOT THE JOB DONE

Now—assuming everything goes smoothly for Copley in his return—the Caps will have their No. 3 netminder healthy and ready for duty in the event there’s a need.

Capitals Coach Barry Trotz used the word “comfort” when asked about what Copley’s return means for Washington.

“It means we have a good third goalie,” Trotz said after Friday’s optional practice in Arlington.  “We had been using guys that were really [No.] four or five on the depth chart playing in Hershey. So an injury to us, or God forbid we had two injuries, we’d be into our five and six, really.”

“And that,” he cracked, “is even deeper than Vegas.”

Trotz, of course, was referring to the Golden Knights, who have seen three goalies go down with injuries in the season’s first 12 games.

That’s an extreme example. But it’s not uncommon for teams to need their No. 3 goalie at some point during a grueling 82-game regular season.  

And now the Caps can breathe a bit easier knowing that their No. 3 is back in action.

Copley originally suffered a significant groin injury while playing for the Bears in the postseason last spring. After a summer of rehab, the 25-year-old arrived in Washington’s training camp healthy. He made three appearances in the preseason, in fact, and played well.

Upon returning to Hershey, though, Copley aggravated the original injury and was advised to rest and rehab. He ended up missing about a month, including the Bears’ first nine games.

“We figured out what’s wrong…Obviously, he’s healed up if he’s going in tonight,” Trotz said.

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If Copley feels good against the Americans and doesn’t face too heavy a workload, he could start Sunday’s game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  

Copley’s return wasn’t the only good news on Friday for the Caps’ goaltending situation, though. No. 4 goalie Vitek Vanecek, who suffered a lower-body injury in a preseason game with the Capitals and has been sidelined since, has been reassigned the ECHL Stingrays. If all goes well, he could rejoin Hershey as the Bears’ No. 2 goalie very soon.

“Hopefully we get that in order because it gives us comfort,” Trotz said. “Obviously, we’ve got Grubi, who is healthy, but it gives us comfort because things happen quickly as you’ve seen around the league.” 

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Jill Sorenson, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 22 Pheonix Copley

How does the team's No. 3 goalie make this list? Because there is a good chance he will not be the No. 3 goalie for long.

Copley originally signed with the Capitals in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. He was shipped off to St. Louis in 2015 in the trade package that netted Washington T.J. Oshie, but the team reacquired Copley in 2017 as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade.

RELATED: 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

The move was an instant boost for Hershey. Copley managed a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage in 25 games with the Bears and played well in the playoffs until a groin pull prematurely ended his postseason.

As good as Copley looked in Hershey, general manager Brian MacLellan did not target the 25-year old netminder just to boost the AHL squad. Copley was brought in as a possible replacement for current backup Philipp Grubauer and there is a good possibility that he could take that role at some point this season.

It's no secret that Grubauer wants to be a starter. After a season in which he posted a 2.04 GAA, .926 save percentage and 13-6-2 record, one could argue he is ready to make that jump. After Vegas selected Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft and with no goalie market over the summer, Grubauer still remains in Washington, but that does not mean he will remain for the entire 2017-18 campaign.

Some goalies don't pan out for teams and others get injured. There will be teams out there who will find themselves in need of a goalie this season and they will come calling, perhaps even as early as training camp if someone suffers an early injury. The Capitals are a team with obvious needs. They do not boast the same depth they have had in recent years and will likely be willing to listen to offers for their German backup. If and when that happens, then Copley will most likely step make the jump to the NHL as backup to Holtby.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber