WASHINGTON — Wearing a blue baseball hat instead of a hockey mask, sitting on the Washington Capitals bench instead of guarding their net, Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby shook his head as his replacement settled into the crease.
Holtby was yanked for the start of the third period in what became a 6-2 loss for Washington against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, dropping the Capitals into a 2-0 hole in the Eastern Conference second-round playoff series.
"Obviously," Holtby said, "it’s never where you want to be."
He meant being on the sideline. But he also could have been talking about his team’s daunting series deficit against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Crosby and Co. eliminated Washington at this stage a year ago.
On Saturday, after Holtby gave up three goals on nine shots in the second period alone, Capitals coach Barry Trotz sent out backup Philipp Grubauer for the final period.
"We just had to change, sort of, the ‘mojo,"’ Trotz said when asked why he made the switch.
Grubauer did not exactly distinguish himself.
He allowed a goal on the second shot he faced.
And another on the fourth.
As for which goalie will start Game 3 on Monday at Pittsburgh, Trotz replied it was "way too early to talk about that; I haven’t really thought about it at all."
The Capitals began the final period trailing 3-1 after Holtby allowed a short-handed goal to Matt Cullen, then a pair of scores set up by Crosby. The last, which came off the stick of Jake Guentzel after Crosby blocked a shot and then fed the rookie the puck, disappointed Holtby the most.
"The playoffs are made of big moments, and on that third goal, it’s a big moment. That’s where your goalie needs to come up with a save," Holtby said. "And I just didn’t."
Holtby won the Vezina as the NHL’s top goaltender last year and is one of three finalists this season. But he has not been as good as usual in these playoffs, compiling a .911 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average.
Holtby tied for the league lead with 42 wins for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals this season, becoming only the third goaltender in NHL history to record at least 40 in three consecutive years. He also ranked second in the league with a 2.07 GAA and fourth with a .925 save percentage.
Grubauer had 13 wins and a 2.04 GAA as the primary backup. Two years ago for the Capitals, he became the first German-born goalie to start an NHL playoff game.
"Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year," Trotz said, but he also acknowledged that Holtby "wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us."
The Capitals held a team meeting after the game and while players didn’t want to get into specifics, forward T.J. Oshie said it consisted of "things that people needed to say, our leaders needed to say, and things that people needed to hear."
Now Trotz must decide which goalie will protect Washington’s net in Game 3 — and prevent another season from slipping away.
"I have a lot of trust in this group. They’ve responded all year," Trotz said. "And they will respond again."