The Capitals had their rear ends handed to them on Thursday night. The New Jersey Devils, whom had only played one regular season game prior to Thursday’s tilt with Washington, blasted the Capitals out of Newark by a score of 6-0. Many frustrated fans placed blame on the Capitals goaltender for the evening, Pheonix Copley. But a closer look at Thursday night’s numbers, as well as Copley’s career numbers, will prove that that’s likely not the case.
For starters, let’s take note of shots on goal totals. Washington fired only 21 shots towards Kinkaid, while Copley faced 36. In fact, for the first two periods of the game, Pheonix was the reason the Capitals even stood a fighting chance, despite being slow in both zones.
“He made some really good saves, we gave up some really good chances and a lot of times we didn’t give him a ton of support“. Said Todd Reirden, Washington’s Head Coach.
And on that tenth shot, off the stick of Kyle Palmieri, the game began to fall apart for the Capitals. Three shots on goal later, the boys in Red found themselves in a two goal deficit.
“First period especially, he was really good, he didn’t get a very good effort in front of him. He played hard and made some big saves in the first when it was still close. The rest of us gotta do better“. Admitted Matt Niskanen of Capitals second defensive pairing.
Capitals newcomer Nic Dowd, who played very well considering how poorly the team did overall, said in a post-game interview, “You look at the tape and he gave up five or six, but a lot of those were on us. Turnovers and leaving guys open, breakaways that he stopped tonight, how many 2-on-1s? Game could have been 11-0 if he hadn’t played as well as he did. I think he was ready, he was prepared and he played well”.
Of course Thursday’s game didn’t go as anyone in Washington had hoped, but for Pheonix Copley, the feeling of loss in undoubtedly intensified. This game leaves the Caps’ backup goaltender with a Save Percentage of .838, a woefully unflattering statistic to be stuck with so early on in the season.
And with Holtby getting most of the starting opportunities as the season goes on, it could take Copley the entire regular season to get those numbers where they need to be, and that’s only if he maintains the excellent level of play he’s established and the team in front of him needs to do a significantly better job of protecting their netminder.
The average Save Percentage in the NHL is roughly .910, which is a long ways away from what Copley was left with after losing to the Devils.
Further enhancing the disappointment felt by Caps fans is the fact that Copley is attempting to fill the skates of our former back up goalie, Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer was traded to the Colorado Avalanche at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and has actually lost his first game in net as an Av, giving up five goals against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 6th. But Grubi was a big piece of the puzzle for Washington last year and a lot of fans feel Copley has failed in comparison.
Copley is hardly at fault here. As Grubauer can attest to, Washington is no stranger to dropping games with their backup in net. Grubi played eight games in the 2017-18 season, all while practically standing on his head before he picked up his first victory. Ironically enough, the Caps would start Grubauer in net for the first round of the playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
A 6-0 loss is hard to swallow as a fan or as a player, but as many players seem to have said, that loss is a reflection of the team as a whole, not the goaltender. Despite a hot start for the defending champions, there is a lot of room for improvement if the Caps want to bounce back against John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
By: Chris Laroche