Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer makes his first NHL start here this afternoon on Long Island against the New York Islanders. The 21-year-old native of Germany was Washington’s fourth-round choice (112th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and today he will seek to maintain an obscure streak that has been running for nearly 20 years.
For the better part of the last two decades, every Caps-drafted goaltender who has made his first NHL start for Washington has won it.
The last Caps drafted goaltender who was saddled with a loss in his first NHL start was Byron Dafoe, the Caps’ second-round (35th overall) choice in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. Dafoe suffered a 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and Dominic Roussel on Oct. 15, 1993 at USAir Arena.
Since then, six straight Caps-drafted netminders have won their first NHL starts. Five of them did so on the road. Here’s a look back at those previous six starts.
March 2, 1995 at New York Islanders
Off to a dismal 3-10-5 start in the lockout-shortened campaign of 1994-95, the Caps summoned goaltender Jim Carey from AHL Portland and installed him in net against the Islanders in the 19th game of their 48-game slate. Carey stopped 21 of 24 shots he faced and Keith Jones scored twice to help the Caps to a 4-3 victory, besting New York's Tommy Soderstrom in the process. With Carey going 18-6-3 the rest of the way, the Caps overcame their poor start and made the Stanley Cup playoffs.
April 12, 2002 at Buffalo
In the penultimate game of the 2001-02 season – and what turned out to be the penultimate game for Ron Wilson as Caps’ bench boss – Washington turned to Sebastien Charpentier for its final road game of the season in Buffalo. The diminutive Charpentier was the Caps’ fourth round (93rd overall) choice in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. At the tail end of his fifth pro season, Charpentier finally got his first NHL start against the Sabres and Buffalo net minder Mika Noronen. He stopped 38 of 39 shots he faced to earn the first of his six career NHL victories with offensive support from Ulf Dahlen, Ken Klee and Dainius Zubrus.
Nov. 24, 2003 at Detroit
Olie Kolzig’s streak of 16 successive starts came to an end when the Caps opted to go with rookie Rastislav Stana in goal against the Red Wings in the Motor City. Stana, the Caps’ seventh-round (193rd overall) choice in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, became just the second Slovakian goaltender in NHL history, and when he stopped 38 of 39 shots to earn a 4-1 win over the Wings, he became the first Slovakian goaltender ever to claim a victory in the NHL, beating the Wings' Curtis Joseph. Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang and Zubrus scored for Washington and Kris Draper’s third-period goal was all that came between Stana and a shutout. That game stands as the lone win of Stana’s NHL career.
Dec. 13, 2008 at Montreal
A night after Brett Leonhardt (now the team’s video coach) suited up as the Caps’ backup goaltender for warm-ups and most of the first period of a Verizon Center game against Ottawa, Varlamov got his first NHL start at Bell Centre in Montreal in front of a Hockey Night in Canada national television audience. Varlamov, the Caps’ first-round (23rd overall) choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, stopped 32 of 33 shots and won the game 2-1 when Michael Nylander potted the game-winner with 2:32 left in regulation. Nicklas Backstrom scored the other goal for Washington as the Caps beat the Habs' Jaroslav Halak.
Feb. 14, 2009 at Tampa Bay
In a game more noteworthy as the one in which Caps blueliner Mike Green set the NHL record for most consecutive games (eight) with a goal by a defenseman, Michal Neuvirth was sharp in the nets for Washington. Neuvirth, the Caps’ second-round (34th overall) choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, stopped 31 of 32 shots he faced in defeating the Lightning by a 5-1 score. The game came in the midst of the team’s “Fathers Trip,” so Neuvirth and Green’s dads were both in attendance and able to watch their sons’ exploits. Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin, Shaone Morrisonn, Green and Eric Fehr scored for the Capitals as they defeated Tampa Bay's Mike McKenna.
Nov. 7, 2010 vs. Philadelphia
Two nights after earning his first NHL win in relief of Neuvirth against the Bruins, Braden Holtby got his first NHL start in a matinee game against the Flyers at Verizon Center. Holtby, Washington’s fourth-round choice (93rd overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in his first start and picked up the win when Green scored 29 seconds into overtime. Fehr and Semin also scored for Washington as the Caps defeated the Flyers and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Washington’s last six drafted goaltenders to make their first NHL start for the team include an American (Carey), a French-Canadian (Charpentier), a Slovakian (Stana), a Russian (Varlamov), a Czech Republic native (Neuvirth) and a Western Canadian (Holtby).
Today on Long Island, a German (Grubauer) will attempt to run that streak to seven.