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Grubauer proving to be important piece of Caps' success

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Grubauer proving to be important piece of Caps' success

If you were going to make a list of the players the Caps could not afford to lose this season, it would be pretty short. They've shown they can win even without star players like Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Orpik and John Carlson. There are two players the team can't afford to lose, however: Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin. In that order.

Holtby has unquestioningly been the team's MVP this season, but in the second period of Sunday's game against the New York Rangers, the team suddenly found themselves without their top netminder.

"He just said that he was having a little trouble getting focused," Trotz said. "He didn't get hit or anything so we just think it's a little hydration."

It's a problem Holtby has had before as he was pulled from practice in December. The good news is that Trotz did not believe it would keep Holtby out of the lineup. The bad news on Sunday was that the Caps still had a game to play. So for the second time in as many nights, the team turned to backup Philipp Grubauer. Unlike in Saturday's loss to Buffalo, however, when Grubauer entered with the Caps down 3-0, this time he came in protecting a one-goal lead.

As he said after the game, the situation from his point of view was no different. All he was thinking about was "stop the puck." His teammates, however, recognized the different challenge he faced against New York.

"I can't even imagine what it's like to have to do that," Taylor Chorney said. "Just sitting on the bench then all of a sudden you get thrown into a game like that when you're playing a top team like the Rangers. It's unbelievable."

RELATED: Justin Williams posts hat trick in 5-2 win over Rangers

Grubauer did not disappoint. The young netminder turned aside all 11 shots he faced, backstopping the Caps to the 5-2 win.

You can excuse the fans for worrying about how the Caps would respond without Holtby, but for the Caps, there was no panic at all.

"We see him everyday," Justin Williams said of Grubauer. "We see the talent that he has and the competitiveness that he has. To come in halfway through a game that you don't think you're playing in back-to-back days shows that he's ready, mentally ready."

That's a very different story compared to last season when the Caps were relying on Justin Peters as their No. 2.

Peters struggled in relief, sputtering to a 3-6-1 record and .881 save percentage. As a result, the coaches seemed to lose faith in him resulting in Holtby playing in 73 games in the regular season. When he fell ill in the playoffs, Grubauer was recalled from the AHL and given the start over Peters. Now in his first full season in the NHL, Grubauer has registered a .925 save percentage and 2.12 GAA.

Yeah, I'd say those are numbers you can get behind.

The transition from starting goaltender to backup is not an easy transition to make, especially when a goalie comes from the AHL where teams play in multiple back-to-back games. To go from playing constantly to sitting on the bench can be hard to do. Grubauer seems to have handled that transition well. Part of that is how he manages to stay focused during the game just in case he is unexpectedly called upon to play.

"I follow the puck a little bit more," Grubauer said. "I don't look around too much in the crowd, just concentrate on the puck and try to read plays and that's it."

It's a formula that seems to be working.

Said Chorney, "He came in, made some huge stops and was a big part of the win."

MORE CAPITALS: Braden Holtby exits game vs. Rangers due to dehydration

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

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USA Today

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

The Washington Capitals (3-2-2) head to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada after an overtime/shootout loss against the Florida Panthers last Friday. 

The Caps are determined to avoid the devastation they felt in the first period when they gave away four goals to the Panthers. They will need to focus in the power plays and avoid penalties at all costs.

Many fans were looking forward to the reunion with former player Jay Beagle, who is now centerman for the Canucks, but he is unfortunately out on injury. However you can look out for Caps Nic Dowd, who will have his own homecoming game against his former team. 

Here is everything you need to know about Capitals vs. Canucks which takes place at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.
 

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 8 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season

Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

When: Monday, October 22 at 10:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs. Canucks game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs. Canucks on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS SCHEDULE

9:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
9:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
10:00 PM: Capitals vs. Canucks
12:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lars Eller, F, Capitals: In his last game, he had a three-point night with three assists. He is a messaive help and shined within the trio of Vrana and Connoly on Friday.

Tim Schaller, F, Canucks: He was struggling in the preseason but came back with a vengeance. He assisted with a penatly kill and is a key component in fourth line. 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

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What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

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USA TODAY

What is a back-up goalie’s job during a game?

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. What is his job during the game?

Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers was one of the rare games that featured four goalies. Braden Holtby and James Reimer started, but both were ultimately pulled in what was a high-scoring affair. In stepped Pheonix Copley and Michael Hutchinson.

And yet, despite being little more than an afterthought in the team’s preparation for the game, both Copley (one goal allowed on 19 shots, .947 save percentage) and Hutchinson (one goal allowed on 11 shots, .909 save percentage) stepped in and out-performed the starters giving both of their respective teams a chance to win the game.

“It's easier in some aspects,” Holtby said of coming into a game off the bench, something he has done at various points of his career despite being the primary starter for Washington. “I think that's why you see a lot of guys go in and have success right away and have good games because you don't have that day or two days to be getting rid of your thoughts and that kind of thing.”

At the end of every bench in the NHL is a goalie sitting in full pads and a hat. Every team dresses two goalies on the roster for a game. One starts and one sits on the bench as the backup in case he is needed because of injury or because a coach chooses to make a goalie switch. That backup is tasked with being ready at all times to step into the game knowing full well that, if all goes according to plan, he will not get to play at all.

Holtby and Reimer had prepared for Friday’s game knowing they were going to start. Both players took warmups in order to prepare them to play a full game while Copley and Hutchinson had little reason to think they would see any action at all.

By the end of the second period, however, both Holtby and Reimer had been replaced. Copley at least had an intermission to prepare as he came on at the start of the second period while Hutchinson had to step in midway through the second period.

“I guess it can be a little challenging,” Copley said, “But I feel like as long as you’re kind of paying attention to the game and your mind's kind of in that hockey mindset then if something happens, I'll be ready to go.”

Professional athletes are creatures of habit. To have to step into a game unexpectedly with little to no warning or preparation and be expected to perform at the highest level is an incredibly tough mental challenge.

And yet, in many ways, it can be easier than starting.

“The whole thing about mental preparation is so that you go out there not thinking about anything, not worrying about any of that,” Holtby said. “When you're forced in with a matter of 30 seconds, there's no time to think about anything. You just go in and play.”

For goalies, not starting does not mean having the night off. Both coaches and teammates alike can lean upon a backup netminder as an extra set of eyes.

“Sometimes they'll ask a question like did it look like I had room there?” Copley said. “Was it a shot or missed? Did you see what happened on this play? So I just try to be there and watch.”

Some coaches even give goalies assignments in game, though that practice seems to be on the decline.

“I know [Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock] makes them look at faceoffs or something,” Holtby said. “It's pretty archaic. There's guys that do that now that are better than the backup goalie at looking at things.”

In truth, there is no defined in-game requirements for most goalies in the NHL when they sit as backups and that is true of the Caps’ tandem. That makes the job of a backup a very simple one.

“I just try and be ready if I have to go in,” Copley said. “Make sure I'm physically and mentally ready and be a good teammate.”

Holtby put it even more succinctly as he said, “Don't do anything stupid.”