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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.