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."
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?