Pheonix Copley made his first start of the season on Thursday in a game that ultimately turned into a blowout 6-0 loss against the Devils, their first regulation loss of the season. Since he allowed six goals in his first start, it would be an easy conclusion to make that Copley was the reason the Caps lost or that backup goaltending, one of the few question marks for this team heading into the season, is an issue for Washington.

That, however, was not at all the case.

Copley, who is replacing Philipp Grubauer this season as the team’s backup netminder, was one of the few bright spots on the night for the Caps as he turned aside a number of high-quality opportunities. For the first two periods, he was the only reason the game was close at all.

“He made some really good saves,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “We gave up some really good chances and a lot of times we didn’t give him a ton of support.”

Copley stopped the first nine shots he faced on the night as the Devils quickly established control of the game.

When Kyle Palmieri put the Devils up 1-0, the Caps were getting outshot 10-1 at that point. By the end of the first period, Washington was getting outshot 13-6 and were down 2-0.

“First period especially, he was really good,” Matt Niskanen said. “He didn’t get a very good effort in front of him. He played hard and made some big saves in the first when it was still close. The rest of us gotta do better.”


The Caps weren’t just giving up a lot of shots, they were giving up high-quality scoring opportunities.

Copley’s stats at the end of the night may not look impressive with six goals allowed on 36 shots. What you don’t see on that stat line, however, are the breakaway saves on Pavel Zacha and Taylor Hall, the odd-man breaks he turned aside, all the high-quality chances the Caps gave up that Copley managed to keep out of the net.

“You look at the tape and he gave up five or six, but a lot of those were on us,” Nic Dowd said. “Turnovers and leaving guys open, breakaways that he stopped tonight, how many 2-on-1s? Game could have been 11-0 if he hadn’t played as well as he did. I think he was ready, he was prepared and he played well.”

Bad games in front of good backup goaltending is nothing new for the Caps. Last season, Grubauer did not record a win until his ninth appearance of the season. In his first eight games, he was 0-5-1 with a .876 save percentage and 3.86 GAA. So frustrated was he during that stretch that he famously declared after one loss, “I’m sick of [expletive] losing.”

By the end of the season, Grubauer was the Caps’ starter going into the playoffs.

Thursday’s game did not go the way Copley would have hoped, but that was because of the play in front of him, not because of his play in net.

“We’ve got to help him a lot more than we did tonight,” Lars Eller said. “It’s hard for him to look good when he has to face a lot of big chances, breakaways, second chances. It was not easy for him tonight.”