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Pheonix Copley prepares to justify the Caps’ faith in him as backup goalie

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Pheonix Copley prepares to justify the Caps’ faith in him as backup goalie

There is a lot of buzz over prospect goalie Ilya Samsonov and his first season in North America, but there’s another netminder in the system who is expected to get more NHL playing time in 2018-19 and that is Pheonix Copley.

Copley, 26, will enter training camp as the frontrunner to replace Philipp Grubauer as Braden Holtby’s backup in the NHL.

“I'm really excited,” Copley told NBC Sports Washington after an informal skate at MedStar Iceplex. “Obviously, that's the opportunity you want.”

Copley’s numbers in Hershey were not great last season (.896 save percentage, 2.91 GAA) as he had still not recovered from the groin injury that had ended his prior season. Before the injury, however, Copley has managed an impressive AHL career.

Copley told NBC Sports Washington that he feels good physically for the start of this season, which is good news for the Caps considering he has big skates to fill.

Grubauer established himself as a starting caliber goalie with his strong play as Holtby’s backup. In 2017-18, the German netminder managed a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA. He proved critical to the team’s success as Holtby struggled in the back half of the season due in large part to fatigue. Having a goalie as good as Grubauer to back him up allowed the team some flexibility in net.

After playing in 24 postseason games and with a shorter offseason to recover, the pressure is on for Copley to show he can be as dependable a backup as Grubauer was.

“Grubi's a great goalie and a great guy and I spent a lot of time with him,” Copley said. “But anytime you go into a season and in training camp, there's a spot you want. As a goalie, it's naturally a pressure position so it's really no different than any other year, just a different league.”

The transition from AHL to NHL can be a difficult one not just because of the quality of play, but because of the workload.

In Hershey, Copley could expect to play in around 40 games. In the NHL, he will get closer to 20.

“My first-year pro, I kind of went through that in the American League. It's the same kind of situations as you face elsewhere in pro hockey, it's just a different league this time. I'm sure the pressure and the speed, everything amps up, but really it's no different, the challenges. It's just, you've got to be that much more mentally strong and that much more ready to face your challenges.”

Adjusting to fewer games is the challenge Washington wants to avoid with Samsonov and is ultimately why the backup job is Copley’s for the taking.

In his first season in North America, the most important thing for Samsonov is to get as much playing time as possible. That will help both his transition to the North American game and his development as a goalie. Playing in 40 to 50 games in the AHL will ultimately be much better for him than riding the bench behind Holtby and getting only 15-20 games of experience, even if it is at the NHL level.

But Copley is not just a placeholder, he will have to perform.

The Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions and they have their sights set on a repeat. Grubauer was critical in helping Washington win the Metropolitan Division and getting Holtby rest for the playoffs. The Caps will need a similar contribution from Copley if they hope to repeat.

The backup job looks like Copley’s to win heading into training camp, but it is also his to lose.

“There's good goalies here,” Copley said, “So I'm just going to come and work hard every day and do my best and every time I get a chance, try and give the team a chance to win every time I'm out there.”

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Capitals Injury updates: Braden Holtby a possibility to start in Montreal

Capitals Injury updates: Braden Holtby a possibility to start in Montreal

The Capitals were able to pull out a win Friday in Colorado without Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie or Braden Holtby. With a game Monday in Montreal, the team hopes it will not be quite as shorthanded against the Canadiens.

Washington practiced Sunday in Montreal and three goalies took to the ice. Holtby was on the ice along with Pheonix Copley and Ilya Samsonov 

Holtby suffered an upper-body injury Wednesday morning prior to the game in Winnipeg. That injury kept him out of the lineup both Wednesday and Friday. The Caps netminder told Chris Kuc of The Atlantic that he is ready to play, but still needs to be cleared by doctors.

Head coach Todd Reirden said after practice that Holtby was a possibility to start Monday.

With Holtby’s status still up in the air, Samsonov remains with the team in case he is needed to suit up as a backup.

While Holtby was on the ice for practice, both Kuznetsov and Oshie were not. Reirden told the media that both players are day-to-day and are with the team in Montreal. Their status for Monday remains uncertain.

With no Kuznetsov or Oshie, Reirden kept the offensive lines largely the same from Friday except for switching Devante Smith-Pelly to the third line and moving Brett Connolly down to the fourth.

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson 
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Devante Smith-Pelly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Brett Connolly

Reirden switched up the lines frequently on Friday and Stephenson, Boyd, Smith-Pelly combined for a goal in the second period.

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Capitals vs. Canadiens: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

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Capitals vs. Canadiens: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

When the Capitals traveled to Montreal to face the Canadiens earlier this month, they suffered one of their toughest losses of the season, allowing three goals in the final three-plus minutes of the third period, falling 6-4 in devastating fashion.

The Caps will be looking for revenge on Monday evening, as they get their first crack at the Canadiens since that devastating loss.

Alex Ovechkin enjoys playing against the Canadiens. In 47 games against Montreal in his career, Ovechkin has 51 points (29 goals and 22 assists), including a two-goal performance in their meeting earlier this season.

Here is everything you need to know about Capitals vs. Canadiens which takes place Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS at CANADIENS: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 20 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: Monday, November 19, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals vs. Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals at the Canadiens on the new MyTeams by NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7, 106.7 The Fan, 1500 AM

CAPITALS at CANADIENS TV SCHEDULE

6:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live
7:00 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:30 PM: Capitals at Montreal Canadiens
10:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live
10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS at CANADIENS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Max Domi, LW, Canadiens: In 20 games, Domi has recorded a point in all but three of them. His 24 points are tied for the ninth-most in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals: Ovechkin loves playing against the Canadiens, as he has totaled 51 points in 47 career games against Montreal. In their first meeting this season, he netted two goals in the 6-4 loss.

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