Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates has tabbed rookie goalie Phillip Grubauer as the starter for Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This will mark Grubauer's tenth start in the team's past 14 games, adding another interesting twist to an already murky Capitals' depth chart at that position.
Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth entered the season as the team's de facto tandem in net; while Holtby was viewed as an emerging elite-level goaltender (perhaps even garnering consideration for Team Canada), Neuvirth was seen as also having the ability to be a number one option. Both have taken a step back over the course of the first half of the season, and Neuvirth has gone as far as to demand a trade out of Washington.
For the time being, Grubauer - originally recalled to fill in for an injured Neuvirth - has grabbed hold of the starter position, and has done his best to keep the Capitals within striking distance of a playoff spot.
"He’s come up and from the first game he’s played great. Given us a little bit of spark. He’s earned an opportunity to play games and I’m playing him,” Oates told the Washington Post. “A little bit of a dilemma right now with three guys. My attitude is it’s a long year and everyone’s going to get plenty of opportunities to play and when a guy’s playing pretty good I’ve got to play him."
Indeed, Grubauer's numbers stand out as the best of this bunch, certainly making it difficult for Oates not to continue to turn to him.
The Capitals will face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, and Oates indicated the decision on who will start depends on how Thursday’s game plays out.