The Capitals will start rookie goalie Philipp Grubauer in net for the 13th time in 18 games when they face the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon.
The uncertainty in goal continues for Washington. Grubauer was expected to spend much of this season developing at AHL Hershey with a chance to gain some NHL experience if Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth were injured.
Well, Neuvirth was injured – he stepped on a puck during warmups on Nov. 29 before scheduled start vs. Montreal – and Holtby struggled to stay consistent and confident. Now you have a situation where, for now, Grubauer has become the de facto No. 1 goalie and Neuvirth is either starting or sitting in the press box. That’s the case again today when Holtby is the backup.
“I don’t know if that’s the correct way to say it,” Caps coach Adam Oates said when asked if Grubauer is his No. 1 goalie. “But obviously he’s got the majority of the starts lately and played good hockey. He’s the guy we’re leaning on right now.”
Grubauer is 6-2-3 with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He ranks second among rookie goalies in save percentage and fourth in saves (350) and goals against average among players with at least 300 minutes played.
Neuvirth, meanwhile, stopped 34 of 36 shots on Friday in a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. But that may have been to showcase his health as much as anything. Neuvirth requested a trade earlier this season. And it’s clear that carrying three goalies on a roster in an untenable situation for much longer.
Before his start against the Maple Leafs, Neuvirth hadn’t played in a game since Nov. 22. Holtby started the following two games and then Neuvirth was hurt moments before that game against Montreal on Nov. 29. In all, he sat out 20 games and didn’t dress at all in nine of them.