By Bill Sands
Last week, we took a look at what we were hoping to see from the Washington Capitals on their West Coast road trip. This trip seemed like a great opportunity for the Caps to collect some standings points and solidify their status as a contender. Instead, the team returns home with even more questions and a murkier future due to the play between the pipes.
Philipp Grubauer Seizes The Reins
Braden Holtby has had a down year by his standards. His numbers are down and he has not looked like the top-5 goalie that Caps fans know he can be. Holtby’s backup netminder, Philipp Grubauer, has now seized his opportunity and ran with it. In two-and-a-half games in California, Grubauer gave up only two goals and stopped 58 of 60 shots. He concluded the trip by shutting out the San Jose Sharks on Saturday afternoon in a 2-0 win.
While the idea of sitting Holtby would have been laughable just a few months ago, the numbers don’t lie: Holtby has been average at best, while Grubauer has been stellar. Holtby has a .907 save percentage and a 3.03 GAA, while Grubauer has an impressive .925 save percentage and 2.25 GAA. Of course, Grubauer has played far less games than Holtby, but those numbers still tell a story. Grubauer hasn’t given up more than two goals since Feb. 4th; Holtby has given up three or more goals in four of his last five appearances.
Coach Barry Trotz has taken notice, admitting that Holtby “hasn’t had a real good stretch.” Trotz stressed that the team hasn’t given up on Holtby, but the netminder does need a “reset” to get out of his slump.
A New Problem For the Washington Capitals
This situation is a new one for Washington. Holtby has been a steady presence since taking the starter’s job in 2012. For the past five and a half years, the team hasn’t had to worry about who’s going to be in net, but the recent role reversal means that there will be uncertainty going forward. The Caps have a better chance of winning when Grubauer is in net and they have to keep putting him in, but the longer Holtby sits on the bench, the more his confidence gets shaken.
Whether it’s a physical injury or just a mental block, something’s wrong with Braden Holtby, and until he can figure it out, look for more questions about the Caps’ goaltending situation going forward.