NEW YORK – Nothing like getting your first start of the season – and second of your career – in America’s most famous arena.
Capitals coach Adam Oates confirmed that 22-year-old rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer will start against the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden [7 p.m., CSN].
“Holts can’t play 80 in a row,” Oates said. “We thought he needed a break. Back-to-back for both teams. I just felt like Gruby needs to play, we need every guy to play and this is a chance for him.”
Grubauer’s only other NHL start came last season on Long Island when he allowed five goals on 45 shots in a 5-2 loss to the Isles. He’s also made two relief appearances and has a career mark of 0-1-0 with a 2.89 GAA and .926 save percentage
But this is different. It’s the Rangers, a team one point behind the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division standings. A team that has defeated them in each of the past two playoff seasons.
“You know what? There’s no easy environment,” Oates said. “We’ve got Tampa Tuesday night. It never ends. They played last night. Holts is a little tired. There’s no easy nights.”
Oates said he spoke with goalie coach Olie Kolzig about which goalie to start and after careful consideration, they decided it was best to give Holtby, who has played in 24 of the Caps’ 29 games this season, a rest. Holtby ranks ninth among NHL goalies in ice time with 1,349 minutes and has faced more shots  than everyone but Phoenix's Mike Smith .
“Holts needs a break,” Oates said. “He’s played a lot of games. Tonight’s a break. And we’ve got confidence in Gruby.”
Oates said he is also considering putting defenseman Steve Oleksy back in the lineup, likely in place of rookie Patrick Wey, who looked a little tentative handling the puck in his NHL debut alongside Dmitry Orlov Saturday night in the Caps’ 5-2 win over Nashville.
Oleksy has not played since Nov. 20 against the Penguins, a stretch of seven games as a healthy scratch. In 20 games he has no goals, six assists and is a plus-2 with 38 penalty minutes.
In injury news, Oates said Brooks Laich [groin] and goaltender Michal Neuvirth [lower body] both skated at Kettler on Sunday.
“Brooks said he felt pretty decent,” Oates said. “He’d need a few days [of skating] for sure. I can’t see Tuesday. Brooks will tell us when he can play.”
The Rangers are expected to go with Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. He’s played in 22 of the Rangers’ 30 games this season. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said right wing Benoit Pouliot will replace Dominic Moore in tonight’s lineup and that defenseman Michael Del Zotto will replace Marc Staal, who left Saturday night’s game with a possible concussion.