Three goalies, no clear choice for struggling Caps

Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth (30), of the Czech Republic, looks on during warm ups before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, in Washington. The Blackhawks won 5-4 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth (30), of the Czech Republic, looks on during warm ups before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, in Washington. The Blackhawks won 5-4 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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It has become the elephant in the Capitals’ dressing room.

Three goalies, two nets, and no clear-cut answer on who’s No. 1.

The Capitals have lost seven of their last nine games.

Braden Holtby has allowed 18 goals in his last 10 periods. Rookie Philipp Grubauer has lost his last three starts and four of his last five decisions, but has allowed two goals or fewer in eight of his 11 appearances this season.

So, if you’re Capitals coach Adam Oates who do you start when the Caps return to game action Thursday night in Tampa Bay against the Lightning?

“What if I go to Neuvy?” Oates said. “Neuvy deserves a start at some point, right?

Ah, yes. Michal Neuvirth. The Caps’ highest-paid goaltender [$2.5 million this year and next] has not played a game since Nov. 22 and has been a healthy scratch in 10 straight games. That makes him, at least right now, the third goalie in the Caps’ rotation.

“It’s not optimal,” Oates said. “It’s not. If there is one guy playing good the other two guys want their chance. They’re fighting for scraps in a sense. So, it’s not optimal, but it’s the way it is right now.”


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The Caps have had three healthy goalies since Dec. 17. If this goes much longer, will it become a distraction?

“Possible,” Oates said. “But if they’re pros, it shouldn’t. Hopefully, it gets rectified.”

There are only two ways the Caps’ crowded crease gets rectified. Either Grubauer is sent back to the Hershey Bears or Neuvirth gets traded, which, by the way, his agent has requested.

“Unfortunately for him, he got hurt,” Oates said, referring to Neuvirth injuring his ankle when he stepped on a puck during warmups. “You can’t control that. It’s fluky, he got hurt. Philipp played good. I’m a coach, I’m gonna go with what I want. Their job is to be prepared for their turn. That’s all you can control.”

Which brings us back to Holtby. On Saturday night in St. Paul, Minn., he allowed five goals on 11 shots, the fewest ever allowed by the Capitals in a road game.

Before the game, Brooks Laich said Holtby’s pre-game competitiveness reminded him of Olie Kolzig.  

After the game, Holtby acknowledged his confidence isn’t where he’d like it to be.

“I felt sorry for him a little bit,” Oates said. “They only had 11 shots but they still had seven chances, so the shot totals are a little misleading. … That’s part of the gig, man. It happens. Once again,though, you’re going to get lots of times. Be ready for your time.”

Oates would not say which goalie will start on Thursday night in Tampa but with the Caps now in third place in the Metropolitan Division, just one point ahead of Carolina, it sounds as though he’s leaning toward Grubauer.

“You gotta get wins and you gotta keep the team playing good,” Oates said. “It’s a delicate balance that every team goes through. That’s why you talk about being pros all the time.”

Said Laich: “We love all three guys. … Nobody’s dragging their lips. Michal’s going through a tough time. We know he wants to play but as far as I know he’s been playful and colorful back there. Credit to those guys. They’ve handled it with great professionalism.”

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