Grubauer had emerged as the Capitals' No. 1 option over the last several weeks, which in turn displaced incumbent starter Braden Holtby to the bench and Michal Neuvirth to the press box. The rotation switch was initially inspired by an injury to Neuvirth, one that occurred during warmups at the end of November.
Capitals coach Adam Oates stated that Grubauer's return to the AHL will allow the goaltender to work on his game, in addition to lessening the stresses of carrying three goaltenders, via NBC Washington:
"He came up and played really well, gave us a little life and won some games," coach Adam Oates said. "Obviously made for a difficult situation with three goalies and we just lost a few in a row. It makes sense to send him back down and go to two. We lost that spark, in a sense. He showed that he can be an NHL goalie. Go back down and retool your game. Keep working on it."
Grubauer had allowed three goals or more in four of his last six appearances and accumulated a 1-2-3 record over that span. In 16 appearances this season, the 22-year-old goaltender registered a .926 save percentage and 2.38 goals-against average.
The emergence of Grubauer resonated with Neuvirth, as Neuvirth's agent requested the Capitals trade his client at the end of December. With Neuvirth acting as the odd man out, agent Patrik Stefan believed his client would be better served seeking employment with another team:
"Well obviously right now, they have three goalies up with the big club," Stefan said. "He's been sitting in the stands for the past week or so. ... I'm hoping and I'd like and want Michal out of there. It obviously doesn't seem like he's getting a chance to play and sitting in the stands doesn't do anything good for the club and obviously Michal. He still has the potential to be a No. 1 guy in the NHL."
The goaltending market in the NHL is widely undefined at the moment, with several pieces potentially in play. The Edmonton Oilers were extremely active last week in trading Devan Dubnyk to the Nashville Predators and subsequently acquiring Ben Scrivens from the Los Angeles Kings. Beyond that, it remains unclear who is looking for additions in the crease, and whether Neuvirth is still interested in being moved.
For the time being, the goaltender is excited about the opportunity to receive more work:
"Grubi was playing good, and we had a tough couple of games. He's going to have a chance to play every game in Hershey. I think it's good for me and Holts to get a full practice and I'm pretty excited."