Tuesday morning, like every practice day for the past three weeks, the Washington Capitals’ goaltenders took the ice a half hour before the rest of their teammates. With three healthy goalies on the roster but only two nets on the ice, an early start is how they ensure they satisfy their individual objectives and receive enough reps as they rotate through drills.

It’s a daily manifestation of the delicate dance that has come to define the Capitals’ goaltending depth chart as Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and Michal Neuvirth all vie for practice time, starts and the role of Washington’s number one with no indication of when the music might stop.

By all accounts the three goaltenders have remained upbeat around their teammates, leaving their position battle to sort itself out on the ice, but the longer Washington’s three-headed competition continues, the more untenable it becomes.

“It’s not optimal,” Coach Adam Oates said. “It’s not because if there is one guy playing good the other guys want their chance and they’re fighting for scraps in a sense. It’s not optimal, but it’s the way it is right now.”

Under the guidance of former goaltending coach Dave Prior, who also played a prominent role in the organization’s scouting of netminders, the Capitals managed to stock the organizational cupboard with not one but four goaltenders who have proven they can compete in the NHL.

Semyon Varlamov, a 2006 first-round pick now with the Colorado Avalanche, was the first of the homegrown goaltenders to lay claim to the starting spot, followed by Neuvirth (second round, 2006), Holtby (fourth round, 2008) and now Grubauer (fourth round, 2010).

But the Capitals haven’t committed to one as the goaltender of the future; instead, they are using them interchangeably depending on injuries or, as is the case now, who has the hot hand. It certainly takes time for a team to identify what it has in any prospect, but at some point Washington will need to decide how to proceed.

“Do they keep these guys as three in the organization or do they look at a team like the Islanders who have had injuries to Evgeni Nabokov, who was injured again [Monday night] and do they move one of these assets?” former NHL goaltender and CBC analyst Kevin Weekes said in a phone interview. “But because you do have that depth it doesn’t force you to make any rash decisions; a team can be more discerning in trying to make the best decisions for the organization and for the player.”

The present three-way battle began to percolate in late November when Neuvirth stepped on a puck as he came out for warmups on Nov. 29 and twisted his ankle, prompting the Capitals to recall Grubauer. Then, when Holtby needed a night off and then struggled in early December with Neuvirth still sidelined, Washington turned to the 22-year-old Grubauer, who ran with the unexpected opportunity.

Grubauer has been Washington’s most consistent goaltender since, posting a .932 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average in nine of his past 13 starts, even as Neuvirth regained his health and Holtby, the playoff starter the past two years, sat on the bench for the longest stretch in his NHL career.