When the Washington Capitals take the ice in warmups at Prudential Center, where they visit the New Jersey Devils for their home opener on Thursday, expect an unfamiliar face leading the team out of the tunnel.
Capitals’ backup goaltender Pheonix Copley will likely get the start and make his Washington debut on Thursday night after goaltender Braden Holtby started in the Capitals’ 5-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night.
Copley was originally signed by the Capitals as an undrafted free agent in 2014. In 26 games during his first season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in 2014-15, the 26-year old North Pole, Alaska native went 17-4-3 with a .925 save percentage, 2.17 goals-against average, and three shutouts.
He was dealt as part of the trade that landed the Capitals forward T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues on July 2, 2015. Forward Troy Brouwer and a 2016 third-round draft pick were also included in the package to acquire Oshie.
Copley had a subpar season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves the next season and posted a .909 save percentage and a 2.79 goals-against average. He made his NHL debut that season with the Blues, starting one game and appearing in two, allowing five goals on six shots.
He thrived with Chicago the next season and recorded a 15-6-2 record, a .920 save percentage, and a 2.31 goals-against average. At the NHL Trade Deadline in late February, he was dealt back to the Capitals as part of the trade they made to acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues. When Copley arrived in Hershey late that season, he went on a roll and recorded an 11-5-0 record with a .931 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average.
Copley suffered a groin injury in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs and struggled mightily last season when he posted a 15-17-4 record, .896 save percentage, and a 2.91 goals-against average. His performance that season as well as his lack of NHL experience once the team sparked concern for the Capitals’ back-up role after the team dealt Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche at this past summer’s draft.
Copley had a good training camp and recorded a shutout against the Blues in the preseason, where he made multiple ten-bell saves and shined.
By Harrison Brown