After weeks of seemingly forgetting that he had backup goaltenders, Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave Braden Holtby a chance to shine against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. But once the two teams hit the ice, Holtby did anything but shine as he was lit up for five goals on only 11 shots in a 5-3 loss.
While some people will surely chalk up the poor performance to the fact that Holtby had not played since December 21, it seems clear that something deeper is occurring. The goaltender has allowed a massive 15 goals in his last three games in net, which all ended as Washington losses. He now has a dreadful 3.08 GAA for the 2013-14 season.
It is impossible to envision how Holtby could not be shaken mentally, and one must wonder what will come out of the current Capitals goaltending dilemma. It is clear that Philipp Grubauer is firmly entrenched as the starting goaltender; Michal Neuvirth wants out of town, and Oates does not seem willing to truly stick his hands into the fire and address the issue.
One reasonable change that could be made would be to let Neuvirth jump up the depth chart and send Holtby to third, but would the organization be willing to do that? After all, Neuvirth has publicly asked to be traded, and giving him one game a week will not meet the goaltender’s apparent demand to start consistently. Also, sending Holtby to third on the depth chart could incense another player in Washington, and leave the team with two guys clawing to get out the door.
One thing that the Capitals could do to strike down the flames would be to actually send Holtby out of town, but to the Hershey Bears in the AHL. Doing this would give Holtby time to get as many minutes as his body can handle, gain a bit of confidence and bring him back to form. Players sometimes get a bit too content with their current situation, and it would appear that the 24-year-old could use the jolt that would come with going down to the minors for a brief period.
Another benefit of doing this is that it would allow Washington to give Neuvirth more minutes on the ice at the NHL level, which would actually aid his exit out the door. After all, Capitals GM George McPhee will receive much more in a trade package for Neuvirth if teams actually see his vast talents.
The only player who will truly stay happy under this scenario is Grubauer, but life isn’t always a fairy tale in professional sports. At some point, the Capitals will have to make a decision regarding their three goalies, and I believe that momentarily sending Holtby down so that Neuvirth can audition for other teams will ultimately yield the best result for all three players, and the organization as a whole.