As the postseason began, the refrain from Barry Trotz has been how confident he is in both netminders and that the decision on who will start would be on a game-by-game basis. That tone changed sharply on Wednesday in the wake of Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance.
On a conference call with the media, Trotz was asked Wednesday if Holtby would start Game 4.
"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.
That type of clarity regarding who the Caps netminder is refreshing at this point as uncertainty has followed each of the first two games of the series.
The decision to sit Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer originally was not an easy one. After going through a tough six-week stretch from February to March, Holtby yielded the crease to Grubauer. The German netminder played well down the stretch and Trotz elected to stay with the hot hand to start the playoffs.
"[Holtby] was obviously probably a little disappointed but at the same time he's a total pro and our conversation was good," Trotz said. "The one thing that stands out to me, he says, if I get a chance to come back in the net I'll stop the puck. But I'm in. I understand and I'm ready if you need me."
Hotlby certainly was ready on Tuesday.
Grubauer performance admirably in Game 1 and Game 2, but he could not get the big save when the team needed it as Trotz lamented on Sunday.
The Caps got a number of those key saves from Holtby in Game 3, his first start of the series, as he turned aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced. To be fair, he was bailed out by the post four times in the game, but for the most part, it was a strong performance. When the backup plays well in a loss, it still generates questions on who will play going forward. When the starter comes back into the game and plays well, it erases all doubt as to who the starter will be going forward.
For the first time all series, the question of who will start is finally an easy one for Trotz to answer.
Trotz is also hopeful that Holtby has not only recovered from his struggles, but has improved his game because of them.
"You see it around the league with top goaltenders, they have some of these periods where they have to reset or refine themselves a little bit because it tests you," Trotz said. "This league test you all the time. It changes all the time and you have to change with it a little bit. I think it forced [Holtby] to move forward a little bit, rethink some things and recalibrate his game to the game that's being played in the National Hockey League right now.
"I think it's been a good process for him. I think it's just going to make him a more complete goaltender going forward, a more complete person going forward. It says a lot about Braden."