Along with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Winnipeg Jets and New York Islanders, the Washington Capitals were one of four teams to have both of its NHL goaltenders playing in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Each of the four teams had to make other arrangements and plans for men to man the crease when training camp got underway.
Both the Lightning and the Jets were able to get their goaltenders back soon after the start of camp, but both the Islanders and the Caps had to wait until the very end of the tourney to get their netminding tandem back on the ice at camp.
In the Islanders' case, at least their No. 1 guy - Jaroslav Halak - stayed sharp throughout the tournament. He was a big reason why Team Europe advanced to the final. Halak played every minute in goal for Team Europe over the course of the tournament.
Caps No. 1 goaltender Braden Holtby was Team Canada's No. 3 throughout the tournament. He appeared in one pre-tourney game (back on Sept. 10) and was in the press box watching the rest of the action. During practice, he got few reps as he bided his time behind Montreal's Carey Price and Chicago's Corey Crawford.
Washington netminder Philipp Grubauer served as Team Europe's No. 2 goaltender. Although he did not play in the tournament, he was on the bench for the games and saw more pucks in practice than did Holtby.
Holtby worked hard over the summer to prepare for the World Cup camp and tournament, only to find himself sitting idly while Team Canada roared its way through the tourney. Grubauer hasn't played much over the last month, either. For Washington, one of the main challenges of the back half of training camp is to get its two goaltenders up and running after an uncharacteristic period of September dormancy.
"Grubi has backed up every game," says Caps goaltending coach Mitch Korn. "From the second per-tournament game where things didn't go well early for Thomas Greiss, Grubi has been the second goalie. So he has been on the bench for all of this, which is awesome.
"And while Holts may be bored and he may not be coming back to us in the physical condition that we want him, but regardless of who your goalie coach is anywhere on this planet, goalies learn from goalies. And both of these guys are now in the locker room with some pretty polished goalies. Grubi with [Jaroslav] Halak and Holts with Carey Price and two-time Stanley Cup winner Corey Crawford.
"Nothing bad can come of that. From watching them and picking something up to talking to them to being around them, it's fantastic. It's what I want the young guys here to do when Holts is here, and now Holts has an opportunity to do it while he is there. And it may not be perfect and it may not have gone exactly the way he would have liked. But that's my silver lining, and I think it's a good one. Because where else would you have the opportunity to have a symposium with Carey Price?"
While Holtby didn't get to spend a great deal of time with Price, he did work closely with Crawford over the last several weeks, and cited that relationship as one of the rewarding aspects of his personal World Cup experience.
"Yeah, that was probably the best part," says Holtby. "I didn't get to see too much of Carey; he was at the other end [of the ice]. Corey and I did a lot of work together.
"I really appreciate his game. You don't get to see him very much with him being out west. He does some things outstandingly well that obviously I can learn from and try to get better at. He's a great guy who works really hard, earns what he gets and that was probably the best part of the experience."
Holtby came back to the Caps almost immediately after Team Canada's World Cup final win over Europe on Thursday. Although he had the right to take three days off, he was back on the ice Saturday morning; Friday was a day off for the Capitals.
"It was tough," says Holtby of being the No. 3 for Team Canada. "It was like starting all over again after the first week of camp there, because there wasn't much action as [the third] goalie. So it was kind of waiting around. When the tournament started, you could actually do some work in practice with the extra guys and the goalie coach. It was still not as much as you like, but you try to take more knowledge in mentally just watching those guys instead of physically, and get back to work here on the technical issues."
Holtby accompanied the Caps to Bridgeport, Conn. on Saturday and played in a game for the first time in three weeks. He showed no signs of rust, stopping 24 of 25 shots to help the Caps earn their first win of the preseason.
"I wanted to get back as soon as I could and get on the ice," says Holtby. "I'm sure I can use all the days I can get to make up for the days of camp. There is a lot to be said in camp about getting the team together and creating a chemistry. I wanted to get back and make sure I'm part of that."
Holtby and Grubauer are slated to dress for tonight's preseason game against the St. Louis Blues, the first of four remaining games the Caps have with which to get the two goaltenders up to speed.
"I perceive the dilemma this way," begins Korn. "Yes, they both need to play. The good news is Grubi has lived that before. He lived it last year. But he played the Olympic qualification games [for Germany in August], but that was a while ago. And the fact that he was on the bench for the World Cup keeps him in the action with your eyes and your brain, because you're at ice level.
"When you're sitting up in the stands - which Holts is doing - that's a little less desirable. So there is no question that it is going to be challenging in two ways. One, I believe they both want to play, but they've got to be ready to play. I don't know how much they've done [at the World Cup]. As the No. 2 in Grubi's case, he will see more pucks in practice than the No. 3, in Holts' case. So we want them to play.
"I've got a plan ready when they come back. But the dilemma is you can't have a work day when you have a play day. For me, we need as much work as we need to play. That's why we started this process the last two years on Sept. 1, to work. And you'll notice they've both played in - or Braden has - five exhibition games. Not full games, but they got prepared to play and went through the routine and did all the things they needed to do in five games, because I believe that's often what it takes for your No. 1 guy.
As always, Holtby wants to play as much as possible.
"I'm trying to get as much game action as I can," he says. "With the schedule, we can get some time in there where we can get some good work days, too, and kind of cram it all in.
"There is still enough time. I've been on the ice and have been doing some drills, so we're not at square one, but the game action is key. You can practice all you want, but once you get into a game, it's completely different just getting the stamina back up, the mental stamina. We've still got enough games to make sure we're ready.
"In games, it's just that stamina. You can be in the best shape of your life, but it doesn't make a difference when it comes to the body movements that come with goaltending. There is plenty of time to make sure I'm ready for the first game. It's a long year. Our first game isn't the Stanley Cup final."
And if you happen to see some clowns running around the District these next couple of weeks, fear not. It's merely part of the process.
"It's going to be like the circus now," smiles Korn, "where they put 15 clowns in a Volkswagen. That's what we have to do. The time we have is the Volkswagen, and we've got to put 15 clowns in it."