- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2018

With 10 games left in the regular season, Capitals coach Barry Trotz is not any closer to deciding who will be his starting goaltender for the playoffs.

Trotz acknowledged the Capitals have a “goaltender rotation” between Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. That means Trotz is literally rotating between the two on a game-by-game basis, with Holtby getting the next start Tuesday against Dallas.

And for the playoffs, Trotz said the Capitals are going to go with the hottest hand.

“There’s no sense riding one,” Trotz said. “Holts is coming back and looking better every game and Grubi’s played pretty well for a long stretch, so why not have both of them going?”

Trotz didn’t even rule out making a switch during a series, or varying the starter from series-to-series. He pointed out Penguins coach Mike Sullivan used both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in the 2017 playoffs, which resulted in a Stanley Cup for Pittsburgh. Fleury played 15 games, while Murray appeared in 11.

The Penguins, though, weren’t exactly in the same situation. Murray missed games because he was injured in warm-ups prior to Game 1 of the first round. He wasn’t benched for performance reasons like Holtby was.

Sullivan, however, did ride the hot hand during the playoffs. Murray became available to play starting in Game 7 against the Capitals, and Sullivan kept Fleury in net until Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Ottawa. Fleury giving up four goals on nine shots forced a change. Murray then started every game the rest of the way.

Trotz also has experience waiting until the playoffs before settling on a starter. In 2008, Trotz, then coach of the Nashville Predators, stuck with goaltender Dan Ellis ahead of Chris Mason against the Detroit Red Wings. At the time, Mason had started 45 games to Ellis’ 37.

“It’s such a short time frame, you have to go with your gut on who you think is going to get the job done,” Trotz said.

Holtby was solid Friday against the New York Islanders. He gave up three goals, but two of them came on the Islanders’ power play. He had 22 saves in his first appearance since Trotz wanted the goaltender to “reset” his game. It was his first game in net in 10 days.

The former Vezina Trophy winner has focused on the mental aspects of goaltending, saying he has focused on not letting games snowball out of control when the other team scores. 

Holtby said he’s not focused on the playoffs right now, adding he doesn’t need to know if he’ll be starting until it happens.

The next game on tap, that’s what you prepare for,” Holtby said. “Anything past that is irrelevant.”

The Capitals have other problems to worry about, too. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body) and Brooks Orpik (lower body) are both day-to-day with injuries and missed Sunday’s game in Philadelphia. Trotz said they are doubtful for Tuesday’s matchup with the Dallas Stars.

Washington also has to find a rhythm heading into the postseason. They’ve shown flashes of playing better, winning four straight before losing 6-3 against the Flyers. Washington has even found offense outside star Alexander Ovechkin, with 15 of their last 16 goals coming from elsewhere.

Still, forward T.J. Oshie said the Capitals have to get to a “level where we can make a run.” Unlike previous years, the Capitals are far from leading the league in points.

The Capitals remain in a heated race for the Metropolitan Division, where they lead Pittsburgh by just two points.

“We’ve got to get our game going here,” Oshie said. “We’ve got to get everyone going. We’ve got to play with some intensity, some determination. I think the work ethic has to come first and then all the systems follow after that.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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