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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer

WATCH TARIK EL-BASHIR'S INTERVIEW WITH PHILIPP GRUBAUER IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE

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

In the coming weeks, 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. 

RELATED: CAPITALS' 2017-18 SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

Today’s player: No. 18 Philipp Grubauer.

Last season, Grubauer was arguably the most reliable backup goaltender in the NHL, posting a 13-6-2 record, a .926 save percentage and the third best quality start percentage—.684—in the league.

And, at 25 years-old, he appears to be ready for a bigger role.

That opportunity, however, likely won’t happen in Washington, not with top-3 starter Braden Holtby under contract through 2019-20. In addition to being very good, Holtby also shoulders a heavy workload. In fact, he’s made 201 starts the past three seasons—eight more than anyone else.  

There was a time earlier this summer when Grubauer thought he might be selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. He was not taken, of course, as Las Vegas GM George McPhee swiped defenseman Nate Schmidt instead.

Grubauer also entered the offseason as restricted free agent with arbitration rights. His camp did not elect arbitration because, according to a source, he did not want the Caps to opt for a two-year award. In the end, he signed a one-year, $1.5 million extension to stay in Washington.

So what now?

In the near term, Grubauer is doing and saying all the right things. He arrived in Arlington, Va., a bit earlier than usual this summer, eager to ramp up his preparations for training camp in mid-September.

“Just be patient, work really hard and be successful out there, be ready to go every time,” Grubauer told me after an informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“I want to be ready to follow where I left off last year, keep improving and working hard, get better every day and we’ll see what will happen.”

What could happen is a trade involving Grubauer at some point this season. Such a move would give the German netminder a bigger role elsewhere and deliver to the Caps an asset that could assist in their efforts reload on the fly. If that were to happen, Washington could turn to Pheonix Copley, Hershey’s No. 1 goalie and a well-regarded prospect, to back up Holtby.

All of that, of course, is out of Grubauer’s control. So he’s got his focus exactly where it should be for now: stopping pucks and continuing to build his resume.

RELATED: MOST IMPORTANT CAPITALS, RANKED

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
— No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
No. 19 Nathan Walker

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3 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

3 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

The Caps battled through the rust on Thursday to earn a point in New Jersey. On Friday, rust cost them yet again as they fell 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens.

Here's why they lost.

4 shots on goal in the first period

Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi has had his struggles this season. Yes, he has played better since getting claimed off waivers by Montreal, but getting to play against Niemi instead of Carey Price wass a golden opportunity for the Caps to generate some offense. Washington, however, had very little offense to speak at the end of the night. How did they respond with Niemi in net? By getting only four shots in the first period. Four. They finished with 26 shots on goal for the game, but had they come out swinging in the first and put pressure up early on Niemi, they could have gotten a much different result.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-HABS

Bad passing

After the game, Lars Eller said "It was one of the sloppiest games we've played if not the sloppiest. I don't think we've given up so any odd-man rushes or chances in one game." In no aspect were the Caps more sloppy than with their passing. Here are just a few examples.

A cross-ice backhand pass in the defensive zone? Really? You are not going to be successful trying to make those type of plays and it cost the Caps. They could not maintain possession of the puck or breakout of their zone and it led to several odd-man rushes for Montreal.

Rust

It's not an excuse. The Caps should have played better on Friday regardless, but there's no arguing the fact that rust was a factor. It was abundantly clear that the Caps were out of sync. That will happen when you are playing on the second leg of a back-to-back with no practice time.

Saturday's practice will be absolutely critical since Washington faces a matinee game on Sunday, their third contest in four days.

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3 stars of the game: Grubauer's heroics not enough against the Habs

3 stars of the game: Grubauer's heroics not enough against the Habs

The first time the Caps hosted the Montreal Canadiens this season, Alex Ovechkin tallied four goals as the Caps dominated in a 6-1 thrashing.

Friday's game featured considerably less offense as Montreal just managed to squeak by Washington 3-2.

Philipp Grubuaer got the start and did everything he could to keep Washington in it, but the Caps struggled to find much offense.

Alex Ovechkin did manage to register assist No. 499 as he set up John Carlson on the power play and Lars Eller scored late, but it would not be enough for the Caps to come back.

Here are the three stars of the game.

RELATED: TRACKING THE NHL AWARD LEADERS

1. Max Pacioretty: The Canadiens struggled to get anything past Grubauer in this one, but Pacioretty finally did in the second period on the power play. It was simple enough, he found the puck at his feet, turned and shot.

When goalies start to frustrate teams, we see a lot of players respond by looking for the perfect play and give up good opportunities for more difficult passes. Pacioretty was smart, he just shot. He also added an assist on Paul Byron's goal as the puck bounced off the board and off Pacioretty's skate right to Byron.

He ultimately put the exclamation point on the win with an empty-net goal as well to complete a three-point night.

2. Philipp Grubauer: Grubauer certainly didn't look like a backup goalie in this one. He was strong in net all night long, but his best save came in the first period. Pacioretty hit the side of the net to Grubauer's left on a pretty passing play, but the puck bounced out to the slot and Charles Hudon passed it over to Paul Byron on Grubauer's right. Grubauer dove with his arm outstretched and managed to corral the puck into his body to keep it out of the net.

He would finish the game with several more fantastic saves, 23 in all despite the loss.

3. Andre Burakovsky: It would be hard to draw up a better return to the lineup for Burakovsky.

He started on the fourth line, but he wasn't there for long. He had four shot attempts in a first period in which the Caps struggled to get anything going offensively at all. He also had a breakaway opportunity in the third period as he came out of the penalty box. He had Antti Niemi beat, but hit the post.

It was the second time Burakovsky struck iron in the game. Hedid just about everything right, but just couldn't light the lamp.