Hockey Dominos – Cue Up the Goalie Shuffle

Posted March 18, 2012

Braden Holtby stretches before Friday's game against the Adirondack Phantoms (All Photos Credit: M. Richter)

Tim Leone mentioned last night that Braden Holtby was packing a suspiciously red gear bag following the 3-2 shootout win over Albany Devils.  His keen powers of observation were proven correct this morning, when the announcement came out that Holtby had been recalled by the Caps to serve as the backup tonight.

The move creates a domino effect within the larger organization.  It’s one that Washington fans are well aware of, having watched the Caps play goalie roulette last January when Michal Neuvirth, Holtby, and Hershey goaltender Dany Sabourin succumbed to injury in rapid succession (Sabourin’s was season-ending).  Amongst other things, it saw Todd Ford serving as NHL backup and ECHL rookie Jared DeMichiel starting in Hershey.

A similar scene is playing itself out this Sunday, though the timing is arguably worse for all concerned –  playoffs are less than a month away.  Let’s examine the situation from the top down:

NHL Impact – Minimal

Tomas Vokoun has a “lower-body injury.”  The team loses his experience, but luckily there’s an NHL-experienced AHLer the team can draw upon.

AHL Impact – Moderate

Braden Holtby, said experienced AHLer, gets the call and hits the road.  This means that Dany Sabourin, who played both Friday and Saturday nights, has to start again on Sunday for the Bears (to his credit, Sabourin backstopped a 4-1 regulation win).  Thankfully, the Bears also have a ready back-up down in South Carolina who can ride the bench for them.

ECHL Impact – Severe

Philipp Grubauer is the name who immediately comes to mind when the words “Emergency Call-Up” and “Stingrays” are mentioned.  Except he’s injured, a hand issue that he’s been dealing with for the last couple of weeks which has apparently flared up badly enough to sideline him.  It’s bad enough that he wasn’t able to sit as backup to mid-season acquisition Billy Sauer either Friday or Saturday, that job instead falling to an emergency signing named John Havrilak.

Sauer was acquired in part because the normal backup in Charleston, Daren Machesney, injured his groin the weekend of the NHL/AHL All Star festivities (January 28, to be specific).  He’s been skating again, and has taken light shots, but as of the last update he’s not expected to return in time to resolve the current mess.

So Grubauer & Machesney are both off the table when it comes to a call-up, which leaves Sauer – the lone healthy goalie on the regular roster for the ‘Rays – to answer the bell and hop a plane to Albany.

Joseph Zakrzewski, Broadcaster for the Stingrays (Photo Credit: @JoeyZStingrays on Twitter)

John Havrilak, with his 17 minutes of play in an ECHL game (back in the 2008-9 season), just became the most professionally experienced goaltender on the roster.  Should Grubauer remain unable to play by Wednesday’s game in Florida against the Everblades, Havrilak will likely be backed up by the voice of the Stingrays, Joseph Zakrzewski.  Zakrzewski  spent four years backstopping Sam Houston State University’s Bearkats in the SCHL (resulting in three championship appearances).

It’s not unheard of for members of the front office to suit up on behalf of the team.  Sergey Kocharov, Director of Media Relations for the Capitals, has stepped into the net at practice a time or two.  But that’s never a team’s first choice, or even their second.  The best case scenario is that Sauer will be back down in SC before Wednesday’s game, and Grubauer will be healthy enough to give the coaching staff a choice when it comes to their starting goaltender.  It’s not something they can count on, however.

Some days it’s harder than others to be at the bottom of the totem pole.  Today is definitely one of those days.