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Barry Trotz hints he may turn to Grubauer in net so Holtby can 'settle his game'

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Barry Trotz hints he may turn to Grubauer in net so Holtby can 'settle his game'

It's been a tough stretch for Braden Holtby.

The Capitals' top goalie was pulled again on Tuesday after allowing just three goals on nine shots against the Anaheim Ducks. It was the third time he has been pulled in his last six starts and the fourth time he has been pulled since Feb. 2.

Following the game, most of Holtby's teammates lamented the team's effort in front of their netminder in the loss.

"It wasn't his fault," Nicklas Backstrom said.

"I feel for [Holtby]," Matt Niskanen said. "He's trying like heck. For the most part, he's played pretty well. We haven't given him a fair shake I don't think. I think he can play better, but we haven't given him a fair shake in front of him."

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But even if Holtby is not to blame for Tuesday's loss, or even to blame for the majority of his losses of late, the fact remains he is not playing near the level he has shown he is capable of with only one win in his past eight starts with a save percentage of .854. Philipp Grubauer, meanwhile, has played well in relief. He has made nine appearances since the start of February, managing a record of 4-1-0 with a save percentage of .935.

This begs the question, is it time to start giving Grubauer more starts?

Barry Trotz was asked that question following Tuesday's loss.

"Because [Holtby's] No. 1 doesn't mean you don't go with Gruby for a bit just so he can settle his game. We'll sit down with [goaltending coach Scott Murray] and our goaltending coaches and just see what the best thing for the long haul is."

This could be a delicate balancing act.

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The Caps are in the business of winning and one goalie is clearly outplaying the other at the moment. But at the same time, Holtby is one of the top netminders in the NHL. He has twice been a Vezina Trophy finalist and won the award in 2016. It is hard to argue that Holtby does not give Washington the best chance to win in the playoffs if he is at the top of his game.

"[Holtby] hasn't had a real good stretch as a player," Trotz said. "He's going to work with our goaltending coaches and get his game in order. He's won a lot of games for us. He's an elite goaltender in this league. Everybody goes through some dry spells and he's having one right now."

But, locked in a tight division race with only 16 games remaining in the regular season, can the Caps afford to allow Holtby the chance to play his way out of this slump?

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

In this week's mailbag podcast, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir answer several questions about the Caps' prospects and Hershey.

How does the future look on the farm? Plus, they talk about potential weaknesses, their biggest surprises and more!

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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