Caps’ Holtby Takes the Reins

At the start of the third period of Game 2, Braden Holtby led the Washington Capitals out of the tunnel, took a deep breath and then threw his head forward to pull his mask down before skating onto the ice. With that, Holtby, who started the postseason as a backup, was back.

Washington relieved Philipp Grubauer of his duties after he’d surrendered eight goals on 49 shots over the last two games. Following the loss, the German netminder said that he and head coach Barry Trotz didn’t discuss the decision in depth, but he understood why he’d been pulled.

“I think it’s disappointing that I couldn’t start the third period, but it is what it is and I don’t think I played that good,” Grubauer said.

Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer
Grubauer found himself pulled in the third period of Game 2 after surrendering four goals on 22 shots. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Heading into Game 3 Tuesday, Trotz announced Holtby as the starter, in hopes that it would ignite a spark and help the Capitals rebound as they look to claw back as they trail the series 2-0.

Holtby Looks to Rebound

Before the postseason, Trotz decided to go with Philipp Grubauer as Washington’s playoff starter. Holtby had struggled throughout the regular season and ended the year with a career-worst 2.99 GAA and .907 save percentage. He had also pulled three times in an odd stretch in late February and early March. Grubauer, however, posted better numbers in the regular season, leading Trotz to go with him.

“We’re all on the same team here, same page and we’re all trying to accomplish the same goal,” Holtby said in regards to Trotz’s decision.

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby
Washington will go with Holtby to start Game 3 following two straight losses to start the postseason. (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

With two straight losses in overtime after giving up two-goal leads in both games, the Capitals acknowledged that they do have to improve in a number of areas, including improving their special teams and not letting Columbus gain momentum, but ultimately, they also had to analyze their situation in net.

“It’s just trying to clear your head,” Holtby said in regards to getting back between the pipes. “That’s what the last little bit of practice has been for, is just preparing for any situation wherever the team needs you.”

Caps and Holtby Seek Success

While his regular season was not impressive, Holtby’s success in the playoffs is hard to deny. In 60 career playoff starts, Holtby has registered a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage; prior to this postseason campaign, he’d started 59 of his last 60 playoff games.

According to Trotz, the decision to pull Grubauer and go with Holtby to end Game 2 was “not on our goaltender, this is just on the whole group, everybody.”

“Obviously, we have a lot of faith in Grubi. Grubi’s been fantastic for us. We have a lot of faith in Holts as well,” Trotz said. “He’s had probably a more difficult season then he would like, but we’re pretty blessed to have two options.”

While Holtby will get the opportunity to start, Trotz said he believes in both goaltenders’ ability and that the decision to switch goalies fell on the shoulders of the entire team. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Moving forward, Holtby believes that the team will bounce back and find their game and that ultimately, they must take the time to address their mistakes and keep pushing forward.

“Our job now is to refocus, put it behind us and going into Columbus with the right mindset and the right attitude to have success there,” Holtby said. “I think that’s what we worked on all year, is erasing the last game and focusing on the next one… make adjustments and see what we can do to get better.”

Though the team has not been satisfied with their last two games and realize the situation they are in, the Capitals aren’t considering themselves down and out.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed and we’re mad, we’re down 2-0 and we’re playing good hockey team,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We got to do everything to turn this around… there’s a lot of hockey left.”