When Michal Neuvirth went down to injury on Friday night the Washington Capitals found themselves in a momentary state of emergency, as video coach Brett Leonhardt was forced to suit up as the backup goaltender. Luckily enough the game against the Montreal Canadiens went smoothly as Braden Holtby backstopped a 3-2 shootout win, but questions still remained over what the organization would do with their backup out for a prolonged period.
Eventually youngster Philipp Grubauer was called up from the Hershey Bears to serve as the backup goalie until the return of Neuvirth, but there has been little indication that he will be given a chance to show his skills. This is not because he lacks any sort of potential but because of an apparent insistence from Capitals head coach Adam Oates to ride Holtby until he physically can’t play anymore. Thus far the starter has appeared in 22 out of Washington’s 27 games, compiling an impressive 12-8-1 record with a 2.64 GAA and .925 save percentage.
Despite this impressive resume being compiled from Holtby in 2013-14, it is time to give him a rest in favor of Grubauer. The young German has never truly been given a chance to shine at the NHL level, only appearing in two games during the 2012-13 season, but has continuously shown an ability to perform at the AHL level. In 2013-14 this has played itself out to a 4-4-1 record with a .910 save percentage and 2.60 GAA in nine games played, with the goaltender receiving good reviews for his athletic ability and propensity to make the spectacular save.
While there is no guarantee that giving Grubauer a few games over the next couple of weeks will result in the Capitals finding a guy capable of starting at the NHL level, but there is certainly upside to giving him a chance to shine.
First and foremost amongst the reasons is to figure out whether or not Neuvirth is still needed as the team’s backup or if it would be a viable option to move him on. Given the fact that the goaltender has been a starter for the Capitals for extensive periods of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons and even performed adequately in the 2011 playoffs there would clearly be a large market for his services. When one then includes that he is only 25 and has a $2.5 million cap hit for this season and next, it would not be out of the picture to receive an impact defenseman for his services that could then have a huge impact on the Capitals’ back end.
Furthermore, it could also allow the Capitals a chance to pace Holtby as he embarks on playing far beyond his previous NHL high of 36 games played during the 2012-13 season. For a Washington team that is intent on winning the Stanley Cup in 2014 it will be crucial that their starting goalie is healthy and by extension they have healthy and viable options backing him up.