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Is Grubauer ready to take next step for Caps?

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Is Grubauer ready to take next step for Caps?

Two years ago, when the Capitals hired Scott Murray to tend to the team’s netminders in Hershey, the 36-year-old goalie coach didn’t know a whole lot about Philipp Grubauer, a talented but raw goaltender who had just completed his first season in the AHL.

“When I first met Philipp he had a successful junior career and he was off to a good pro career,” Murray recalled. “He had a lot of physical skill. And over the past two years, with the help of Mitch (Korn), I’ve started to refine his game to make it a little more consistent.

“You saw if from his first year to last year, and you’ll see more of that this year as he continues to grow.”

Grubauer had a statement year in the AHL last season, setting career highs in games (49), wins (27), shutouts (6) and save percentage (.925). Now, two months from his 24th birthday, he seems poised to make this his first full season in the NHL as Braden Holtby’s backup goaltender. With Holtby turning 26 earlier this month it would give the Capitals one of the youngest goaltending tandems in the NHL.

But Murray believes Grubauer, who signed a two-year, one-way $1.5 million contract extension with the Capitals over the summer, is ready for the challenge.

“I think he made his game very consistent at that (AHL) level last year and when you play very consistent at the level you’re at you put yourself in a position to move up levels,” Murray said. “Hopefully, he continues that consistency. He’s made enough strides that when and if he’s called up he’s ready to do it on a consistent basis.”

From the start of training camp, Capitals coach Barry Trotz has termed the backup goaltending battle between Grubauer and Justin Peters as an open competition, saying earlier this week, “Let them fight it out.”

While Peters stopped all 15 shots he faced in Tuesday night’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, Grubauer allowed one goal on 16 shots in regulation and was beaten on a 2-on-1 in overtime.

“I know I need to work hard every day, play good and make sure I’m ready on and off the ice,” Grubauer said. “I’m ready.”

Like Holtby and the other goaltenders in the Capitals organization, Grubauer has made adjustments to his game since Mitch Korn was hired to replace Olie Kolzig in the summer of 2014. Under Kolzig, Greubauer was asked to play deeper in his net so that he could react quicker to backdoor passes.

Under Korn and Murray, Grubauer has been asked to play more of a read-and-react style that requires more processing and predicting.

“Last year we simplified his position a little bit, getting him to really understand not just where the puck is but what’s going to happen with the puck. And we tightened him up a little bit. As the game gets tougher and tougher and goes from a shot game (in the AHL) to making it more dynamic for goalies (in the NHL) your upper body has to be very involved and being tight is an important factor.”

To that end, the lanky Grubauer was asked to make saves while cradling a medicine ball, one of the many teaching devices in Korn’s extensive bag of tricks. He’s also worked with reaction lights, screen boards and white pucks of different sizes.

“The more and more you do it, the more it comes automatically,” Grubauer said. “The wheel hasn’t been reinvented. I’ve seen much of it before. Not everybody uses white pucks, but I used white pucks before in Germany. It’s good for tracking pucks and the screen board is good, too.”

If there is one aspect of Grubauer’s game that needs refinement, Murray said, it is his  puck handling skills.

“I think he’s really come a long way and having a guy like Braden Holtby to see and follow is a key factor,” Murray said. “He may not be as dynamic as Braden, but he’s really making the simple plays to increase the efficiency in how we break out of our zone.”

 

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

On Sunday, Michal Kempny was a defenseman struggling for a spot in the lineup for a team poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. On Monday, he became potentially an important piece on the roster of the first place Capitals.

The last few days have been quite the whirlwind for Kempny who tallied an assist for Chicago on Saturday in a 7-1 blowout against what is now his current team. While the Blackhawks may have gotten the better of Washington that night, Kempny is excited about the postseason opportunity that now lies in front of him.

"Nobody knows what's happening in Chicago, but I'm really happy and I'm really glad that I can be here," Kempny told reporters on Tuesday after his first skate with the team. "There is option of play a playoff and I'm very happy for it."

RELATED: WHERE MICHAL KEMKPNY FITS IN THE CAPS' LINEUP

The 27-year-old Czech defenseman played only 31 games for the Blackhawks this season, but considering Washington's need to shore up its defense before the trade deadline and the team's willingness to give up a third-round pick to acquire him, it is likely he will have a much more significant role with the Caps.

"I thought that I [was] going to get more space on the ice and more ice time, but I didn't play more than half games," Kempny said of his decision to originally sign with Chicago. "But now I'm here and I'm really glad that I'm here. Washington is amazing city and great organization and I hope I will get a chance to access myself on the ice more than in Chicago."

Kempny will not play in Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but did say he expects to play Thursday when the team visits the Florida Panthers.

When he does get into the lineup, it is unclear just how big a role he will play initially or how the team foresees utilizing him going forward. He is a left-shot defenseman and did tell reporters he prefers to play on that side. It seems unlikely the team would acquire him just to put him on his offside.

As of now, however, everything regarding his role in Washington is up in the air.

"I need everything settle down a little bit," he said. "New teammates, new people around here."

MORE CAPITALS: MEET MICHAL KEMPNY