A couple of goalie questions lead this week's 'Bag, so let's dive right in:
@JapersRink How many games do you think Gru gets with the Caps this season? (Yes I know there are a ton of variables to this)— Victoria (@WashCapsRock) August 26, 2014
Brian MacLellan made it clear back in June that Braden Holtby was the team's undisputed number one netminder, and that Philipp Grubauer would be best-served getting a starter's workload down in Hershey, hence the signing of free agent - and clear back-up - Justin Peters.
But what would it take for Grubauer (our 11th-ranked "under 25" in the system, by the way) to get an opportunity to wrest Holtby's job away from him? And how many games should we expect him to get in D.C. otherwise?
The second question is a little easier to answer, so let's start there - since Olie Kolzig left town following the 2007-08 season, the Caps have had an average of 51.6 appearances per 82 games from their number one goalies, 25.2 from their second-most-used netminder in a given season and 12.9 from everyone else. So even with (presumably) more stability in net, it's a good bet that Grubauer will see some time with the big club due to injuries, scheduling quirks, reward for good play and who knows what else. (I'd note that a prolonged injury to Holtby likely means a recall for Grubauer, but if it's Peters that goes down for any length of time, Eddie Pasquale is probably a better candidate to wear the baseball cap on the bench while Grubauer continues to get his games for the Bears.)
Barring injury, though, it's hard to see Grubauer getting a chance to supplant Holtby because it's hard to see Holtby struggling badly enough to warrant it. Muneeb went into great detail the other day about Holtby's 2013-14 and what to expect in 2014-15, and we've beaten the drum in this space as well - last season wasn't nearly as bad as some people make it out to be, and there are some pretty easy ways to explain away much of the negative aspects of it. The coaching and personnel changes should be huge boons to the team's goals-against, and that will obviously benefit all of the goalies. That said, if Holtby can't get the job done, Barry Trotz will find someone who can, and Philipp Grubauer's name would be high on that list.
@JapersRink What's your biggest fear with this team going into the 14-15 season?— GL (@imgsl57) August 26, 2014
That I'll be trapped in Verizon Center and the building will start filling up with snakes pouring in from every opening. (So basically a home game against the Pens.)
Aside from that, I have concerns about secondary scoring and the coach's ability to coax strong possession numbers out of this roster. (But I'm more optimistic on the latter point.)
@JapersRink can we get the Caps to sponsor my NASCAR?— (@ryanellisracing) August 26, 2014
Hilariously enough, this very question was the topic of a FanPost on the site earlier in the summer. (Sidenote: write more FanPosts, fans!)
For me, there were some lingering doubts last summer, but how he handled the goalies through December and early January last year was really the tipping point. Becca wrote about it in early January (and that's worth a re-read, if you're feeling too happy or something), at which point Oates was even acknowledging that "It’s not optimal," but it had been a problem for a month by then. If I had to pinpoint an exact day and time, it's when Oates announced Grubauer as his starter for a third-straight game in Philly on December 15 after Holtby had sandwiched a pair of rough starts around a good one to precede that stretch. And it only got worse from there. Here's how George McPhee recalled it to our pal Mike Vogel:
"I honestly can’t remember how we got to [three goalies on the roster]. But Grubauer was playing so well, and I don’t mind keeping a guy here when he is hot. And he was playing great. But I remember going into New York in January and I thought it was time for him to go down. He was struggling. I actually saw it in the pregame skate in the morning that it was time; he was wilting. It happens with young guys. He was wilting and I had a really bad feeling in the morning skate that he was going to have a tough time in the game and he did. But it was after that game that I walked into the coach’s office and said, ‘Enough. This kid is going down. No more three goalie stuff.’ And it wasn’t open for debate. There just aren’t enough nets for three goalies."
As to what Trotz can do differently, just about everything... other than the power play, that is.
@JapersRink Is any better than at faceoffs? Who are the four best at the draw on the roster?— Ian Suzuki (@IanKSuzuki) August 26, 2014
Andre Burakovsky has even less experience at center than Evgeny Kuznetsov, and I wouldn't expect either one to be very good at all in the face-off department (which reminds me of yet another disappointment from the Oates Era - the inability of one of the great face-off men of all time to impart that knowledge on his charges). Anyway, there are ways to mitigate bad face-off guys, such as not having them on the ice for face-offs or having one of their wings (like Troy Brouwer or Brooks Laich) take draws for them, and the raw numbers tend to seem less drastically awful than the percentages make them out to be. But whether it's Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Marcus Johansson, the second-line center isn't going to be good in the dot, and that's going to mean that Trotz will have to be particularly mindful of how he deploys them. That said, I don't think face-offs are going to make or break any of those players when it comes to their respective abilities to anchor the second line - other skills will.
As for the best four draw-men on the team, here are last year's numbers - you're basically flipping a coin among a handful of guys. But if I have one face-off to win, I want Nicklas Backstrom taking it.
"Can I pay you a ridiculous amount of money to quit your job and blog full-time?"
If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.