One brave move could improve Capitals


“Reliably good” might not be the sexiest descriptor in sports, but when an NHL team finds a goalie who delivers such results, they should count their lucky stars. Few goalies beyond Henrik Lundqvist have fit that bill quite like Braden Holtby over recent years.

Still, just about every goalie goes through a crisis of confidence; even Lundqvist hasn’t been immune to questions surrounding certain stretches of play. Holtby was already struggling this season – he came into last night’s game with exactly a 3.00 GAA, a number startling by both its symmetry and its worrisome nature – and only saw it worsen, allowing three goals in just two periods in Washington’s loss to Anaheim.

It can’t be good to see your team literally double the opposition in shots on goal, yet lose 4-0.

The good news, but also the challenge, is that the Capitals have another option in net, and Philipp Grubauer appears to be a pretty excellent one in that. Rather than fighting it, the Caps should give him a real chance to prove himself, and possibly profit off of that ambition.

He didn’t have to do much against the Ducks on Tuesday, stopping all eight shots in relief of Holtby, but that appearance served as a reminder that he’s been quite effective when called upon. That goes for 2017-18 (a sparkling .922 save percentage in 25 appearances) and his career in general (a slightly better .923 save percentage in 91 games). Holtby, meanwhile, saw his 2017-18 save percentage dip to a worrying .907.

As Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post reports, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz & Co. seem to know that they might need to pivot, at least for a while.

“I think just like anything, we’ll make that decision based on that he’s played a lot of games and won a lot of games,” Trotz said. “So because he’s No. 1 doesn’t mean you don’t go with Grubi for a bit just so [Holtby] can settle his game. We’ll sit down with [goaltending coach Scott Murray] just to see what the best thing for the long haul is.”

So, that’s a bit of hedging, which is totally fair. Allow me to lay out a few reasons why the Capitals should embrace Grubauer as a real threat to Holtby, even if it’s only for the next month or so.

Motivation plus freshness

There’s little doubt that Braden Holtby is a highly motivated athlete.

Since 2014-15, Holtby leads all goalies in games played (250), wins (160), and shutouts (21) while maintaining an excellent .920 save percentage. Still, you wonder if that workload might be weighing on him a bit. That’s especially plausible after the last two seasons, when he might have blamed himself at least in part for the Capitals falling heartbreakingly short of a Stanley Cup despite dominant regular seasons.

While Holtby’s $6.1 million cap hit runs through 2019-20, Grubauer’s $1.5M expires after this season, making him a pending RFA.

At 26, Grubauer must be chomping at the bit to get an extended opportunity to show what he can do … and yes, earn himself some money.

If the Capitals are worried about a “Here we go again” mentality, would a goalie who’s only enjoyed 95 games played spread out over six seasons give them a fresh outlook? From a scouting perspective, there’d likely be a lot more “tape” on a guy like Holtby (355 regular season games, 59 playoff appearances) than Grubauer.

Painful firsthand experiences

If nothing else, the Caps have seen how far a team can go while “riding the hot hand.”

Matt Murray is an immediate example, and he might stand as a template for how the Caps could handle things if Grubauer managed to take Washington far. Maybe they’d roll with Holtby and Grubauer for a bit before making a move? Murray helped the Penguins beat the Caps during the 2016 postseason, while injuries and a red-hot Marc-Andre Fleury flipped the script.

The most extreme example goes to the days before Holtby and Trotz.

During the 2010 postseason, the Canadiens went on an unlikely run with Jaroslav Halak, who only allowed three goals during the final three games of that memorable first-round series despite facing a ridiculous 134 shots on goal.

Despite that run, the Habs then had the courage to choose Carey Price over Halak during the ensuing off-season. These examples could show Washington that there’d be multiple routes if they give Grubauer an extended look, rather than giving him a very short leash.

What could have been?

Look, Holtby’s earned the right to be “the guy” in Washington’s net.

That said, the Capitals are already plagued by “What if?” questions. The Capitals won the last two Presidents Trophies, and also snagged one in 2009-10, yet they still lack a Stanley Cup ring. This franchise needs to turn over every stone to try to get Alex Ovechkin that elusive ring, even if it means ruffling some feathers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Kopitar scores four, McDavid’s four-point night and Olczyk cancer-free

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Players of the Night:

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Two words: career night. Kopitar scored four goals, becoming the first Kings player in 25 years to do so, and thus, setting his own career-high in the process. The Kings decimated the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 in the process.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky made 33 saves en route to a shutout victory, the Blue Jackets’ 10th in a row in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers, who have been red-hot themselves.

Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals: Grubauer has been solid in relief of Braden Holtby down the stretch as the Capitals’ No. 1 gets some rest before a playoff push. He won his fourth start out of his past five since March 10, stopping all 39 shots that came his way in the shutout.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He’s not playing for a playoff spot, and he shouldn’t get too many votes for the Hart Trophy. But McDavid still has his eyes set on Mr. Art Ross. McDavid had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 win for the Oilers over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. McDavid’s 94 points  (36 goals, 58 assists) are now just one shy of Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the Night:

Above all else, this:

Hard work pays off:

Kopitar’s fourth:

Not everything is pretty when it comes to the Canucks. This is though:

Factoids of the Night:

Things you don’t see very often:

Poor Cam Ward:


Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

Oilers 6, Senators 2

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 7, Avalanche 1

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks drop Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime

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If the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s fixing to be one hell of a series,

Thursday’s meeting cemented that. The game had all the ingredients that make up that playoff feel — tight play, tight checking, great goaltending and low scoring. There was urgency from both teams, despite both being near locks to make the postseason.

And it came right down to the last shot of the game.

Logan Couture scored 39 seconds (ironically, Couture’s jersey number) into overtime to clinch a 2-1 win for the Sharks on Thursday night.

The Sharks gained a single point on the Golden Knights and are seven points back of Vegas for first in the Pacific Division with eight games remaining. Perhaps most important, they remained four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings, who leapfrogged the Anaheim Ducks with a 7-1 win against Colorado. San Jose owns a game in hand on L.A.

Catching up to Vegas seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The two teams play each other for the last time next week.

The loss was bittersweet for the Golden Knights, who set record No. 2321778 for a club in their inaugural season.

Malcolm Subban made 42 saves, a career-high after being thrust into action following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury.

Tomas Tartar got the ball rolling in the game 3:47 into the first period to give the Golden Knights an early lead.

That lead lasted for roughly a period.

Brent Burns tied the game 1-1 at 3:27 of the second period with the slickest of wrist shots from the point.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Eddie Olczyk declares he’s cancer-free


It’s the news every hockey fan wanted to hear.

On Thursday night’s Chicago Blackhawks broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago, Eddie Olczyk, who was diagnosed last summer with colon cancer, told the hockey world some great news.

“I got the call on March 14 at 5:07 p.m. letting me know my scans were clear,” an emotional Olczyk said as he stood next to long-time broadcast partner Pat Foley. “I’ve never heard a better phrase in my life. I’m now 10 days on with the rest of my life.”

Olczyk, 51, had surgery after his diagnosis and had his last chemotherapy treatment on Feb. 21.

“All the cancer is gone – we beat this thing,” Olczyk said, thanking a handful of people, from colleagues at NBC to the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL to his family members, wife and four kids. “And I say ‘we’ because it has been a team effort. We all beat this and I’m so thankful for all the support and prayers. They worked. I’m proud to stand here before everybody and say we beat this thing.”

Foley called Olczyk’s battle with cancer, “heroic.”

Olczyk was scheduled to have a scan in April to see how his chemo treatments had gone, but that scan was moved up due to emergency hernia surgery, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve had enough crying to last me a lifetime,” Olczyk said. “I can’t emphasize enough just the support out there… just the texts, the email, the letters. I’ve received thousands and thousands of mail. I won’t be able to thank everybody, but I just want everybody to know on behalf of Eddie Olczyk and his family, we’re forever grateful for the support and the prayers and well wishes we received over the past seven months.”

Olczyk said one thing he realized through his battle is that he found out he was way tougher than he thought he ever was.

“If I can inspire one person to stay away from this, then I guess it was well worth it going through it,” he said.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings

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If you were looking for a barn-burner, this game wasn’t that.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders combined for 13 goals, and the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes scored 11 in total, the Washington Capitals and their hosts, the Detroit Red Wings, played 60 minutes with just one goal between them.

It wasn’t nearly as exciting in the goal-scoring department, but the win for the Washington Capitals put a bit of separation between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Caps (93 points) lead by four points now.

Brett Conolly’s third-period marker at 6:41 was all the Capitals needed for their

Andreas Athanasiou appeared to make it 1-0 in the first period on a nice wrister, but a goaltender interference challenge by Washington was successful after Tyler Bertuzzi was judged to have made contact with Grubauer. This one was pretty cut and dry, as far as GI calls go.

The loss for the Red Wings meant they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, something that had been known for a while but hadn’t happened in the mathematical department.

Grubauer was solid, making 39 saves for his third shutout of the season. At the other end of the rink, Jimmy Howard wasn’t too shabby either, stopping 25-of-26. All he needed was a bit of run support.

Prior to puck drop, the Red Wings announced that defenseman Mike Green, who was hampered by a neck injury back in February, will go under the knife, ending his season.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck