This is new territory for Braden Holtby.
For the first time since 2011, Holtby will not go into the NHL Playoffs as the Capitals’ starting goaltender.
Instead, he will be backing up Philipp Grubauer, who was named the starter for Game 1 on Tuesday.
Barry Trotz discussed the decision with the goalies on Monday, meaning he had to explain to the Vezina winner and two-time Vezina finalist that he would be on the bench in favor of Grubauer.
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How did he take it?
“Braden was fantastic,” Trotz said. “He was an absolute pro.”
For much of the season, the goaltending depth chart was never in question. Holtby looked well on his way to his fourth consecutive 40-win campaign, a mark never before achieved in the NHL.
When the calendar turned from January to February, however, Holtby suffered the worst slump of his career.
In a stretch from Feb. 2 to Mach 6, Holtby made 11 starts and was pulled four times with a 4.32 GAA and .878 save percentage.
While Holtby seemed to recover somewhat with a 2.67 GAA and .911 save percentage in six starts down the stretch, he left the door open for Grubauer to work his way into a starting role.
Despite what can only be described as a goalie competition down the stretch of the regular season for the Caps, Holtby was supportive of Grubauer after the decision became public.
“We're on the same team here, on the same page and trying to accomplish the same goal,” he said.
This is new territory for both goalies. As Grubauer prepares to make only the second postseason start of his NHL career, Holtby also now must adjust to his role as the backup.
While he hopes to provide a positive influence on his teammates in whatever way he can, he also plans to be very hands-off when it comes to supporting Grubauer.
“I'm not going to get in his ear about anything,” Holtby said. “That's the last thing he needs. He's a professional. He knows what he has to do to perform his best.”
Holtby also knows he needs to stay prepared both physically and mentally should he be called upon to relieve Grubauer. As noted, Holtby did begin to improve in the closing weeks of the season, but his mentality has to be a concern. Not every goalie has the mental strength to face the pressure of the NHL playoffs coming off the bench to relieve the goalie who overtook him for the starting job.
Based on how Holtby took the initial news that Grubauer would be starting, however, Trotz is not concerned.
“All [Holtby] wants to do is win and he says if you put me in the net, my job is to stop the puck,” Trotz said. “If I get that opportunity, I'll stop the puck and it's all about team for him.”