No matter what happens tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals plan on giving goaltender Braden Holtby just one of the club’s final two regular season games against the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks, with backup Philipp Grubauer getting the other start.
With 47 wins in 64 starts, Holtby is one win away from tying Marty Brodeur’s single-season record of 48 wins, set in 2006-07 in the New Jersey Devils’ penultimate game of the regular season. Brodeur sat out the Devils’ final game of that regular season.
“We will split them for two reasons,” Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn said. “The first is, I know you can get hurt in any given game, but we’re not going to put ourselves in jeopardy. If (Holtby) got hurt in a back-to-back, you open yourself up. You’re just going to get shot at (by second-guessers). And we have to keep Philipp ready. So, he’s got to play a game."
Of the Capitals' 14 sets of back-to-back games this season Grubauer (8-8-1) has started the back end 11 times. The three times Holtby (47-9-6) has started on back-to-back days he went 3-0-0 in those second games. One of those starts (Jan. 17) came after he was pulled early in the second period the game before. Grubauer last started a game on April 2.
“The hope is we can get it done tonight (with Holtby’s 48th win) and that will give him one kick at the can (either in St. Louis on Saturday or at home against Anaheim on Sunday) and at the very least it will be a tie," Korn said. "And if he doesn’t break it, he still tied it in about 15 games less. So be it.”
In 2006-07 it took Brodeur 78 games to break Bernie Parent’s record of 47 victories. With a win tonight Holtby would tie Brodeur’s record in his 65th start. Holtby and Korn agree there is no sense chasing an individual record when there is a greater goal at stake.
“It’ll be the same as it has been all year, I’m sure,” Holtby said of splitting this weekend’s games with Grubauer. “The only thing we’re preparing for is playoffs right now. There’s nothing else going into it. We’re just going to try to win three games. Win this first one and move on.”
Korn, who has been coaching NHL goaltenders since 1991, said he understands fans’ fascination with Holtby breaking a record held by a future Hall of Fame goaltender like Brodeur. But he doesn’t want Holtby or the Capitals obsessing over it.
“It’s a remarkable season for him regardless,” Korn said. “While you want to break records, it’s not an individual sport. It’s a team sport, which is one of the reasons he’s more into this record than any other.
“Let’s put it this way: If a guy hits his 499th home run, the odds of him getting that 500th home run in the next game aren’t very good. It’s no different than when Ovi was going to break (Sergei) Fedorov’s (Russian goal) record. Did he break it the first game he had the opportunity? No. Second game? No. Third game? No.
“But eventually he was going to break it because he was going to keep playing, right? We’re running out of time. Do you think if Ovi was trying to break that record now that Barry (Trotz) would play him 40 minutes a night? The answer is no.
“When you start messing around with the natural order of the position, you mess with goalie Mother Nature. Goalie Mother Nature bites you in the backside. So we aren’t going to do that.
“This is a team game and there is way more at stake. We want this to happen but when you go out of your way to try to make it happen you’re less likely to make it happen.”
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