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With short-term future secure, Caps' Grubauer eager to get to work

With short-term future secure, Caps' Grubauer eager to get to work

The days leading up to the expansion draft in June were jittery ones for Caps backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, who suspected there was a decent chance he’d get selected by the Golden Knights.

“A little stressful,” Grubauer acknowledged Tuesday following an informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“We were on the phone every day or like every couple of minutes basically.”

Being left somewhat in the dark was an nerve-racking experience, even for someone who makes a living dealing with stressful situations on the ice.

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“Nobody knew what was going on,” he said, referring to his camp’s attempts to figure out which direction Las Vegas GM George McPhee might chose. “We just kinda watched from Germany.”

Grubauer said he learned of his fate—McPhee ended up selecting defenseman Nate Schmidt instead—about a day before the Golden Knights’ picks were revealed during the league’s annual award show.

“Whatever happened, happened,” Grubauer said. “Everybody was a little bit surprised. But I’m glad I got to stay here in Washington another year.”

A couple of weeks later, Grubauer, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract extension with Washington.

With the start of training camp still a month away, Grubauer said he decided to join the Caps’ informal skates a few weeks earlier than usual to take advantage of the team’s facility and staff and ensure that he’s as sharp as possible when camp begins. The almost daily 70-minute sessions are run by strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish and they’ve started to ramp up in recent days as more players trickle back into town.

“We wanted to come back little bit earlier, practice here and train here with Nemo,” Grubauer said. “The facility provides us with a great, great opportunity to get ready for training camp. And there were a couple of guys are here so I wanted to come back a little bit earlier than usual to prepare myself.”

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When camp begins, the Caps’ goaltending tandem will remain unchanged—Braden Holtby will be the starter and Grubauer will be the backup—but there will be a handful of new faces in the locker room. Karl Alzner, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Daniel Winnik and Kevin Shattenkirk have moved on and will be replaced by younger, less experienced players as the Caps squeeze a more top-heavy roster underneath the salary cap.

Grubauer echoed John Carlson’s recent comments on this summer’s roster retooling, saying he hopes the infusion of new blood might be a good thing for a Caps’ team that saw little change the previous two years.

“We’re going to be a little younger than last year,” Grubauer said. “If you go through the league, like Toronto is a little bit younger, Edmonton is a little bit younger, so I think that’s where the trend is going. I think that could really be our advantage—some new blood, some new energy.”

As far as Grubauer’s personal goals for the upcoming season, the 25-year-old aims to pick up where he left off last season. In fact, it could be argued that he was the league’s best No. 2. Among goalies who played in at least 20 games, Grubauer had the second best goals against average (2.04) and was tied for the fourth best save percentage (.926).     

“Just be patient, work really hard and be successful out there, be ready to go every time,” Grubauer said, asked how he intends to approach another season as Holtby's backup. “I want to be ready to follow where I left off last year, keep improving and working hard, get better every day and we’ll see what will happen.”

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Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Alex Ovechkin is capable of scoring any time against any team, but if you're trying to pinpoint when history could happen and see goal No. 700, there are plenty of reasons to be watching Saturday's marquee matchup against the New Jersey Devils (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

In three games this season, Ovechkin has scored four times against New Jersey. On Jan. 16, he was bloodied by a high stick from Miles Wood and left for the locker room returning before the first period was up and scored twice. He did not just get mad, he got even and completed the hat trick in the third period.

Head coach Alain Nasreddine did not reveal who his starter would be in net on Friday, but it will be either MacKenzie Blackwood or Cory Schneider. Keep your fingers crossed for Schneider.

Schneider has not played an NHL game since Jan. 18 and was recalled from the AHL on Thursday most likely because Louis Domingue is headed out of town in a trade and the team wanted to protect the asset. Schneider has a 4.65 GAA and .852 save percentage in nine games. Ovechkin has also had plenty of success against him in the past, scoring eight times against the Devils netminder. He has only managed one goal on Blackwood, but it came this season on Dec. 12, 2019.

Ovechkin has a history of success against the Devils. In 56 games against New Jersey, Ovechkin scored in 22 of them. He has 29 total goals including two of his 28 career hat tricks against the Devils.

New Jersey ranks 30th in the NHL in goals against and, although they have improved in that area since Jan. 1, they still rank 21st in that time keeping the puck out of the net.

Add in the fact that the trade deadline firesale has already begun with the Devils shipping out Blake Coleman and captain Andy Greene in the past week, as well as Taylor Hall back in December, and this may be a team not ready to stop Ovechkin's march to history.

With Ovechkin on the verge of 700, there's no doubt that Saturday's marquee matchup (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) is one you won't want to miss.

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Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, makes an appearance during Capitals practice

Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, makes an appearance during Capitals practice

The Capitals had a special guest during their morning skate on Friday.

Alex Ovechkin's son, Sergei, got to pay his father a visit at the Medstar Capitals Iceplex.

Ovechkin carried his one-year-old around the ice and even put him down on the ice to practice his skills. Sergei had a mini stick of his own, almost like he was ready to play if needed.

No word yet on whether Sergei plans on declaring for the upcoming NHL draft, but the kid has already got some skills--and not to mention pretty good genes.

If you were having a bad day, this moment between Ovechkin and his son will certainly cheer you up!

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