Philipp Grubauer

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Alex Ovechkin delivers memorable night for young cancer survivor (Video)

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Alex Ovechkin made a promise before Saturday night’s game. He told 13-year-old Alex Luey that if he scored against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he would try and find him in the Air Canada Centre crowd.

Luey beat osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and had a wish to meet Ovechkin, his favorite hockey player. He got that chance thanks to Sportsnet’s “Hometown Hockey,” which surprised him last month with a video message from the Capitals captain. In it, Ovechkin told him he couldn’t wait to see him when Washington was in town to face the Maple Leafs.

[Ovechkin continues ascent up the NHL’s goal-scoring list]

Fast forward to Saturday with the occasion being the Maple Leafs’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night. Luey was on the Capitals bench for warmups and read out the starting lineup inside the team’s dressing room. Ovechkin then delivered two gifts in the first period with a pair of goals. He capped off the night with an empty-netter to seal the win and complete his 20th career hat trick and bring Luey and his family to tears.

“I said if I’m going to score a goal, it’s going to be for him,” Ovechkin said afterward. “After my first goal, I tried to look in the stands. He tell me where he’s going to sit, but I couldn’t see him.”

The memories didn’t stop there for Luey, who was also given Ovechkin signed gloves, helmet and a stick. Inside the Capitals room again after the game, goaltender Philipp Grubauer presented him with their player of the game award to a standing ovation.

That’s a memory that will last a lifetime for both Luey and his family, and Ovechkin.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Capitals’ back-to-back woes drive Grubauer to drop f-bomb

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In an age of parity, it makes sense that many teams struggle in the second game of back-to-back sets. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ struggles have been severe, and as Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Sabres reminded us, their rivals the Washington Capitals haven’t had it much better.

The Capitals are now 0-3-1 closing out such sets, and Barry Trotz needs to think critically about these issues, as Washington still has 10 back-to-back sets remaining in 2017-18.

One person has suffered the most under these circumstances: goalie Philipp Grubauer. The 25-year-old received the call in all four of those losses, marking the majority of his work so far this season, as he sits 0-4-1.

While his work has been hit-or-miss, consider that the Capitals have given him basically no margin for error. During those back-to-back closers, they’ve scored just five goals and never managed a lead.

It’s the kind of thing that *cough* can drive a man to drop an f-bomb or two.

Yow. (Footage of his comments can be seen in video form above this post’s headline. Bleeped expletives are fun, after all, right?)

While there’s only so much a team or coach can do when they’re fatigued and the other team is well-rested, top-heavy groups like the Capitals and Penguins likely face an even steeper climb.

In Trotz’s case, he might be wise to at least consider a few different approaches.

Maybe, at least once or twice, he might want to start Braden Holtby instead on the close-out night. It makes a reasonable bit of sense, after all: a more tired group might benefit from having your franchise goalie in net to (ideally) steal a game or at least a standings point where a backup may fall short.

After the loss, Trotz stated that he felt bad for Grubauer, but didn’t totally let him off the hook:

Some of this is on the experienced coach, though.

Perhaps in future sets, the Capitals may want to consider giving Alex Ovechkin or, maybe most importantly, one of their many taxed defensemen a night off or at least a smaller workload?

After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy for two straight seasons, the Capitals seem destined to be like most other teams, scratching and clawing for every edge in fighting to make the playoffs. Solving the riddle of those back-to-backs could end up being crucial for Washington.

In the meantime, maybe get a swear jar for Grubauer?

For more on Washington’s 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres last night, check out this recap.

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

Bolts storm back to defeat Capitals in overtime

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Lightning shut down the NHL’s top scorer and rallied from a two-goal deficit for a quality win.

Brayden Point scored on a power play in overtime, Tampa Bay held high-scoring Alex Ovechkin pointless and the Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Monday night.

“The team that deserved to win won tonight,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We were a determined group.”

Point redirected Nikita Kucherov‘s shot at 3:08 that came after the Capitals were assessed a too many men on the ice penalty.

Ovechkin entered with seven goals in Washington’s first two games this season.

Tampa Bay also got goals from Alex Killorn, Chris Kunitz and Kucherov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 23 saves.

T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist, while Nicklas Backstrom added a goal and two assists for the Capitals. Philipp Grubauer stopped 36 shots in his first game of the season.

“The good and bad is, I thought we could have left here with two points and are leaving here with one,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said.

Kucherov tied it at three on an in-close backhander at 10:46 of the third.

Ovechkin had three goals in the third period in Thursday’s opening night win at Ottawa, then matched the feat while helping chase Montreal goalie Carey Price in the first period Saturday. He added his fourth goal in the second period against Al Montoya.

Ovechkin, bidding to become the first NHL player to have a hat trick in three consecutive games, had a power-play scoring chance from the left circle in the second turned aside by Vasilevskiy. He finished with four shots and was a minus-2

Backstrom and Oshie, on a power play deflection from the slot, scored 1:23 apart late in the first as Washington took a 2-0 lead.

After Killorn and Oshie, with the man advantage, traded goals early in the second, Kunitz’s redirection cut the deficit to 3-2 with 1:51 left in the period.

“A good building block for our team,” Kunitz said.

Grubauer made several strong saves, including Steven Stamkos‘ left circle drive, during an early third period power play.

Vasilevskiy stopped a first-period breakaway by Evgeny Kuznetsov, who got his eighth assist on Oshie’s second goal.

“We had a couple chances to make it 4-1 and we didn’t,” Trotz said. “They just chipped away.”

Will Antti Raanta be the answer in net for the Coyotes?

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This post is a part of Coyotes day at PHT…

The Arizona Coyotes made some pretty drastic changes to their roster this offseason saying goodbye to some major veteran players (Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Mike Smith) and bringing in some fresh faces to replace them, including Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Raanta.

Overall, the players coming in would seem to be — on paper anyway — upgrades over what they ended up letting go.

One of the more intriguing changes is going to be in net where Raanta is going to replace Smith, the Coyotes’ starting goalie for the past six years, and get his first opportunity to be a starting goalie in the NHL.

It is an opportunity he has earned over the past three years.

During that stretch Raanta has been one of the NHL’s top backups, playing behind Corey Crawford in Chicago and then Henrik Lundqvist in New York the past two years. There even came a point this past season where Raanta played so well (coinciding with one of the worst slumps of Lundqvist’s career) that he ended up getting the bulk of the playing time for nearly a month.

Over the past three years his save percentage has put him alongside some of the NHL’s elite goalies, but he has done that primarily as a backup where a goalie can get more favorable matchups and not have to deal with a starter’s workload.

How Raanta adjusts to being the No. 1 goalie will go a long way toward determining how good the Coyotes can be this season.

Shortly after he was acquired by the Coyotes I mentioned how a decent comparable for him and the Coyotes might be the player Cam Talbot has turned out to be for the Edmonton Oilers. Talbot was coming from a nearly identical situation (very good backup to Henrik Lundqvist in New York at a similar age) and has become an above average starter.

If the Coyotes can get that level of play from Raanta it would be a nice addition, and probably an upgrade over what they were going to get from Smith — not to mention at a better price.

The question is whether or not they can get that level of play.

In looking at goalies that have followed similar career paths in recent years the results have been somewhat mixed.

I went back over the past 15 years and looked at goalies that played between between 40 and 100 games through their age 27 season (an admittedly imperfect way of identifying “backups”) and how the most successful ones did when — and if — they became starters.

There were 45 goalies in the hockey-reference database that fit that criteria.

Twelve of them had a save percentage of .916 or better during that point in their career. The list includes Matt Murray, Cam Talbot, Anton Khudobin, Andrew Hammond, Dan Ellis, Philipp Grubauer, Scott Darling, Alex Stalock, Ben Scrivens, Eddie Lack, Vesa Toskala, and, of course, Raanta.

It is an interesting list.

Murray and Grubauer don’t really fit the mold of what we are looking for here because they are both young players that were top prospects. Murray has already taken a starting job and excelled with it, winning two Stanley Cups before his 23rd birthday.

Grubauer probably could be a starter if wasn’t playing behind one of the top-three goalies in the world.

Darling is entering into an identical situation as Raanta this season where he is getting a chance to go from successful backup to full-time starter.

But the rest of that group is exactly what we are looking for here, and the results are not exactly encouraging because other than Talbot none of them really went on to have much success as starters. Lack and Khudobin both continued Carolina’s goaltending struggles that led to them trying to find another top backup this offseason (Darling), while Ellis, Hammond, Stalock, Scrivens, and Toskala never really panned out.

The one thing that Raanta and the Coyotes have going in their favor is that he has a larger body of work to go by, having already already played in 94 games at the NHL level. A lot of the players on the aforementioned list had less than 50 games at a similar point.

We will find out if that extra playing will make a difference.

Capitals ink Grubauer to one-year contract extension

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Braden Holtby‘s trusty backup will be in Washington for the foreseeable future.

The Capitals made official a one year, $1.5 million extension with restricted free agent netminder Philipp Grubauer, which is up from the $750,000 he was making on his previous deal. Per the Post, he’ll have one RFA year left at the end of this deal.

Grubauer, 25, has capably served under Holtby for the last two years. He’s coming off an excellent campaign — 13-6-2, .926 save percentage, 2.05 GAA — and is regarded as one of the best backups in the league.

That’s worth mentioning, because at times this offseason it sounded like he was ready to make the next step in his career.

“I would like to stay here; Washington is awesome and the whole organization’s been awesome the last couple of years,” Grubauer said earlier this summer, per the Post. “But I’m ready if the opportunity comes to make the next step and try to be a starting goalie somewhere.”

Grubauer was made available to Vegas at the expansion draft, but Golden Knights GM George McPhee opted to take blueliner Nate Schmidt instead. That still didn’t diminish rumblings that Washington might dangle Grubauer in trade talks.

It’s also worth mentioning that, in late June, the Caps re-signed goalie Pheonix Copley on a two-year deal.

Copley has a very small NHL resume — just two games, both with St. Louis — but fared well with AHL Hershey last year. In 16 regular-season games he went 11-5-0 with a .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA and, in the playoffs, went 5-4 with a .933 save percentage and 2.13 GAA.