The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals did not have many question marks heading into the season, but backup goaltending was definitely one of them.

One of the few players not returning from the championship roster was backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason. Washington turned the backup duties over to a goalie with only two career NHL appearances in Pheonix Copley and he has had to prove himself ever since.

In his third appearance of the season on Saturday, Copley earned his first NHL win and may have just shut the door on whether backup goaltending was indeed a weakness for the Caps heading into this season.

Copley turned aside 27 of 30 shots against the Calgary Flames and three out of four shots on the shootout to lead Washington to the 4-3 win. The win improves his record to 1-1-1 on the season.

“It’s certainly nice to get the first win,” Copley told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “I’m excited for whenever I get the next chance.”

Grubauer was arguably the best backup goalie in the NHL last year, but he did not earn a win until his ninth appearance of the season. Copley could certainly relate after his first two appearances.

Despite playing well in his first two games, Copley got little support from the skaters in front of him, both in a start against the New Jersey Devils in which the Caps lost 6-0 and a game against the Florida Panthers in which he came on in relief of Braden Holtby and helped the team force a shootout after facing a 4-1 deficit.


“It’s obviously fun to see him getting the first win there,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “His first appearance against Jersey...he actually played really good and we lost 6-0 so it was nice to get this one to him and get this off his back.”

Copley saved his best performance of the season on Saturday to lead Washington to the win. The Caps gave up a 3-2 lead with less than 90 seconds left to go and Copley had to battle just to force the game to a shootout. He made his best save of the night on Sean Monahan with just nine seconds left in overtime to save the game for Washington.

The importance of having solid backup goaltending cannot be overstated. A backup’s job is not just about playing well in a given game, it’s about playing well enough to earn the trust of the coach and prevent the starter from being overworked.

Holtby may be one of the top netminders in the NHL, but he can’t play every game. If a coach does not trust a backup, he may rely too much on the starter and that catches up with a team in the playoffs.

If you want to know what backup goaltending means, look who went to get the game-winning puck for Copley at the end of the game.

After three impressive performances, Copley is showing the Caps he is capable of taking on more starts and lightening the load of Holtby. At this point, backup goaltending certainly does not look like it’s a weakness for Washington.