When the 2013-14 season got underway, Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer and Florida netminder Scott Clemmensen were plying their trade in the AHL. Fast forward a bit more than two months, and the two goalies will be going head-to-head here in South Florida tonight as the Caps seek to run their winning streak to four straight against the Panthers.
Grubauer got the call in late November when Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth stepped on a puck as he took the ice for warm-ups prior to a scheduled start against the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center. Upon arriving in D.C., Grubauer backed up Braden Holtby for three straight games – getting a period of relief work in against Carolina on Dec. 3 – before gaining his first start of the season last Sunday against the Rangers in New York.
Grubauer defeated the Rangers, making 30 stops and becoming just the second ever German-born goaltender to claim a victory in the NHL. Two nights later at Verizon Center, he again relieved Holtby, and this time Grubauer earned another win as the Caps rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take a 6-5 shootout decision from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tonight, he’ll go for his third win in as many outings. Meanwhile, Neuvirth is nearly ready to return to action, and he has reported to the AHL Hershey Bears for a conditioning stint. David Leggio will start for the Bears tonight in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Neuvirth is expected to man the crease tomorrow when Hershey returns home to host Binghamton.
Grubauer has been excellent in his three appearances for the Caps this season, but regardless of how he performs tonight, he’ll almost certainly be returning to Hershey as soon as Neuvirth is ready to assume his spot on the Washington roster again. Keeping three goaltenders is an untenable situation, and Grubauer is the only one of Washington’s three netminders who can be sent to Hershey without exposure to waivers and risk of losing the asset.
Only a trade or another injury would alter that scenario.
Clemmensen was waived at the conclusion of Florida’s training camp, the Panthers opting to go with the tandem of Tim Thomas and Jacob Markstrom in goal. Clemmensen cleared waivers and was loaned to San Antonio of the AHL, but he returned less than a week later when Thomas went down with a lower body injury.
Clemmensen has been with the Cats continuously since Oct. 23, but he has only made three starts and five appearances for the Panthers this season. The first of those three starts was against the Caps in Washington on Nov. 2 when the two teams met for the first time this season.
In Thursday’s Panthers’ practice, Thomas left the ice with an as-yet undisclosed ailment. Florida summoned Markstrom from San Antonio on an emergency basis and he will back up Clemmensen tonight.
Thomas, a 39-year-old two-time Vezina Trophy winner, is responsible for nine of Florida’s 10 victories this season, but he has also been sidelined on three separate occasions.
The absence of Thomas and Neuvirth to injury has created tonight’s goaltending match-up here in Sunrise, but those two aren’t the only ailing netminders around the league.
Anaheim is missing Viktor Fasth, Carolina backup Anton Khudobin, Chicago is without starter Corey Crawford and backup Nikolai Khabibulin, Columbus is missing starter Sergei Bobrovsky and backup Curtis McElhinny. All of those goalies are suffering from lower body injuries.
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is out with a sprained MCL, Edmonton’s Ilya Bryzgalov is suffering from concussion-like symptoms, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick and the Islanders’ has a strained groin, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is still out of action after undergoing hip surgery and Pittsburgh’s Tomas Vokoun has been out all season with a blood clot in his hip.
A very high percentage of the teams in the league are missing a goaltender at the moment, and more than a quarter of the teams in the league are currently trying to get by without their No. 1 goaltenders.