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Grubauer to get more starts in final stretch of the season

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Grubauer to get more starts in final stretch of the season

At the start of February in 2015, the Caps had 33 games remaining in their regular season schedule. Braden Holtby ended up playing in 30 of those games. His workload won't be quite as heavy this year.

With the Caps locked in a tight race in the standings and backup justin Peters struggling (.881 save percentage in 2014-15), Holty was called upon to carry the team on his shoulders out of sheer necessity. Holtby may be a goalie who likes to play as often as possible, but starting 72 games as he did in that season is hardly what anyone would call an ideal situation.

This season, however, he won't have to.

In his first full season at the NHL level, goaltender Philipp Grubauer seems to be growing into his new role behind Holtby.

RELATED: Trotz says Johansson unlikely to play Tuesday

"First half was a little bit different for me to adjust," Grubauer said. "Obviously I don't play as much as I used to in the last years, but now I got some quality time with [goalie coach Mitch Korn]. ... It's a little bit tougher if you don't play every game, you don't start to get in a groove and it's just getting used to be ready on the bench. That's what I'm trying to do."

In 11 games this season, Grubauer has registered a .925 save percentage with a 2.12 GAA and has become a backup the team knows it can rely on. That will mean more opportunities for the Rosenheim, Germany native down the stretch.

"Depending on our schedule, there's a good chance he could get probably 25 percent of the games," head coach Barry Trotz said. That would translate into eight or nine games for Grubauer in the next 10 weeks and somewhere around 20 for the season. That number will start on Tuesday as Grubauer will get the start over Holtby against the Florida Panthers.

Though Holtby did not seem to suffer any ill effects in the playoffs in 2015, a few more nights off for Holtby couldn't hurt.

"Holts can't play every game," Grubauer said. "He wants to, but he can't so you've got to make sure I help out here."

MORE CAPITALS: Caps prepare to face Panthers without Ovechkin

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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