Pheonix Copley, the goalie from North Pole, Alaska, gave the Capitals an early Christmas gift on Saturday night.
Stopping all 35 shots by the Ottawa Senators, Copley recorded his first NHL shutout in a decisive 4-0 win and added one more bit of evidence that Washington has a backup goalie it can trust. Surely after trading Philipp Grubauer during the offseason, that trust was in doubt.
Copley was untested, an undrafted hockey vagrant who worked his way through lower-tier junior leagues to college hockey at Michigan Tech to the Capitals’ farm system – with a trade to the St. Louis Blues mixed in there, too.
Copley played well Saturday against the Senators. It was his career-best in saves and put him with an 8-2-1 record in 12 appearances this season. His save percentage is now up to .912 and his goals-against average is 2.67.
He isn’t quite Grubauer, who played in 35 games and had a .923 save percentage last season. It’s unlikely Copley will even hit 28 starts. But, he’s helped Washington win three sets of back-to-back games for the first time in 27 years.
Grubauer, who broke through after two full years as an understudy behind Holtby, ranked among the NHL leaders for goalies with at least 30 appearances last season. With Holtby struggling through his worst regular season, Grubauer made 28 starts and seven relief appearances.
You can’t do that without a solid backup. And that has helped keep Holtby’s workload in check. He will now face the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on Thursday with five days off in between games. Holtby has started 24 games and likely won’t go much beyond the low 60s as long as Copley continues to provide this level of play. It is a luxury the Caps thought they’d lost and – for now – have found again.
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