- The Washington Times - Monday, January 18, 2016

Barry Trotz originally planned to have Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals’ top goaltender, face the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and then ask Philipp Grubauer, his backup, to play on Sunday against the New York Rangers.

“They each had a game,” Trotz said. “They played in both.”

The two goaltenders split the two games, with Grubauer replacing Holtby because of performance in a 4-1 loss on Saturday and then relieving him because of dehydration in a 5-2 victory on Sunday.

Holtby has been one of the most consistent goaltenders this season, entering Monday with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage — marks that leave him third in the league.

Grubauer has handled his backup responsibilities well, starting eight and appearing in 11 of the Capitals’ 45 games this season. His own numbers — a 2.12 GAA and .925 save percentage — are better than the league average, and if he were a starter with those marks, he would rank just outside the top 10.

Holtby tied a franchise record with 73 appearances last season and believes that consistent playing time has been a large part of his success. That leaves a minimal role for Grubauer.

“You guys haven’t seen him as much this year, but we see him every day and we see the talent that he has and the competitiveness that he has,” right wing Justin Williams said. “To come in halfway through a game that you don’t think you’re playing, on back-to-back days, shows that he’s ready — mentally ready.”

Grubauer made his debut with Washington during the 2012-13 season, when he played two games, and also made occasional appearances over the last two years. A native of Germany drafted in the fourth round in 2010, he signed a two-year, one-way contract in June, making it all but certain he’d start the season with the Capitals for the first time.

His first appearance of the year was rough — he allowed four goals in a 7-4 victory at the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 23 — and Trotz referenced that appearance on Sunday, chalking it up to Grubauer being nervous.

He has allowed three goals in four other starts, but has served as a steadying influence in the three occasions in which he has replaced Holtby. The Capitals rallied from a three-goal deficit and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-3, on Dec. 18; Grubauer allowed one goal in 32:46 in the 4-1 loss to the Sabres on Saturday and stopped all 11 shots he faced over 22:18 on Sunday.

“I’ve got to stop the puck,” Grubauer said after Sunday’s game. “If I let in a goal, they tie it up. Same as yesterday: If I let in a goal, the chances of coming back is maybe more down than it is of us getting back. I don’t think too much. I just got to make the stops. I’ve done it enough. We’ve practiced a lot.”

Holtby, who had not been credited with a regulation loss since Nov. 10, had that 23-game streak snapped on Saturday. Seconds after allowing the Rangers’ second goal in the second period on Sunday, he went to the bench, then retreated to the locker room because of cramping and dehydration.

Holtby left practice on Dec. 27 after experiencing similar symptoms, and he also acknowledged the same after a road game against the Detroit Red Wings in March 2012.

Trotz said he didn’t believe it would be a long-term issue for the goaltender, who still figures to have a shot at starting in the Capitals’ road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

As for Grubauer, another steadying performance in a pinch provided the Capitals with another type of relief.

“I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have to do that, just sitting on the bench and then all of a sudden you get thrown into a game like that when you’re playing a top team like the Rangers,” defenseman Taylor Chorney said. “It’s unbelievable. He came in, made some huge stops and was a big part of the win.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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