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Grubauer proving to be important piece of Caps' success

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Grubauer proving to be important piece of Caps' success

If you were going to make a list of the players the Caps could not afford to lose this season, it would be pretty short. They've shown they can win even without star players like Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Orpik and John Carlson. There are two players the team can't afford to lose, however: Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin. In that order.

Holtby has unquestioningly been the team's MVP this season, but in the second period of Sunday's game against the New York Rangers, the team suddenly found themselves without their top netminder.

"He just said that he was having a little trouble getting focused," Trotz said. "He didn't get hit or anything so we just think it's a little hydration."

It's a problem Holtby has had before as he was pulled from practice in December. The good news is that Trotz did not believe it would keep Holtby out of the lineup. The bad news on Sunday was that the Caps still had a game to play. So for the second time in as many nights, the team turned to backup Philipp Grubauer. Unlike in Saturday's loss to Buffalo, however, when Grubauer entered with the Caps down 3-0, this time he came in protecting a one-goal lead.

As he said after the game, the situation from his point of view was no different. All he was thinking about was "stop the puck." His teammates, however, recognized the different challenge he faced against New York.

"I can't even imagine what it's like to have to do that," Taylor Chorney said. "Just sitting on the bench then all of a sudden you get thrown into a game like that when you're playing a top team like the Rangers. It's unbelievable."

RELATED: Justin Williams posts hat trick in 5-2 win over Rangers

Grubauer did not disappoint. The young netminder turned aside all 11 shots he faced, backstopping the Caps to the 5-2 win.

You can excuse the fans for worrying about how the Caps would respond without Holtby, but for the Caps, there was no panic at all.

"We see him everyday," Justin Williams said of Grubauer. "We see the talent that he has and the competitiveness that he has. To come in halfway through a game that you don't think you're playing in back-to-back days shows that he's ready, mentally ready."

That's a very different story compared to last season when the Caps were relying on Justin Peters as their No. 2.

Peters struggled in relief, sputtering to a 3-6-1 record and .881 save percentage. As a result, the coaches seemed to lose faith in him resulting in Holtby playing in 73 games in the regular season. When he fell ill in the playoffs, Grubauer was recalled from the AHL and given the start over Peters. Now in his first full season in the NHL, Grubauer has registered a .925 save percentage and 2.12 GAA.

Yeah, I'd say those are numbers you can get behind.

The transition from starting goaltender to backup is not an easy transition to make, especially when a goalie comes from the AHL where teams play in multiple back-to-back games. To go from playing constantly to sitting on the bench can be hard to do. Grubauer seems to have handled that transition well. Part of that is how he manages to stay focused during the game just in case he is unexpectedly called upon to play.

"I follow the puck a little bit more," Grubauer said. "I don't look around too much in the crowd, just concentrate on the puck and try to read plays and that's it."

It's a formula that seems to be working.

Said Chorney, "He came in, made some huge stops and was a big part of the win."

MORE CAPITALS: Braden Holtby exits game vs. Rangers due to dehydration

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

MORE CAPITALS: WHY THERE'S NO REASON FOR CAPS FANS TO WORRY