Photo: Yahoo Sports
The Capitals, at times this season, have struggled in games and many fans or analysts tend to point at one thing or another as the source of the problem. Goaltending has been a relatively stable position all season for the Caps, but as of late, starter Braden Holtby has arguably, struggled somewhat. In this piece, Chris Laroche looks at the relative success of backup Philipp Grubauer and how it compares to Holtby’s numbers thus far into the season.
As a fan who’s not afraid to vocalize his dissatisfaction whenever need be, I often find myself switching sides on this season’s hot button issue: who is to blame for the bulk of the Capitals’ struggles, when they do struggle? Is it the defense? Or is it the goaltending? Regardless of which side of the argument one tends to lean on, the general consensus is that backup goalie Philipp Grubauer seems to remedy the situation when he’s between the pipes. Grubauer has participated in 20 of the Capitals’ 59 games so far this season, starting 15, and relieving Holtby on the occasional off-night in another five. His stats for this season are a little lopsided, as he’s currently won only five of his games started, and lost the remaining 10, albeit three of those losses were in overtime. Despite this, his Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (Sv%) are both marginally better than that of Holtby’s.
Holtby is a franchise goalie who has set the bar very high during his tenure with the Capitals. He’s played 43 games this season, winning 28 of them. He currently boasts a .911 save percentage and 2.92 goals-against average. These numbers would be very impressive for just about any goalie, but for the affectionately-dubbed “Holtbeast”, these numbers are not what many have come to expect over the last few season. So, why is it then that Grubauer, is currently boasting better numbers than the Holtbeast? Grubauer has a save percentage of .914 and goals-against average of 2.65. Ordinarily, the starting netminder should be the one who’s numbers outweigh the back up. As proof of this, we take a look now at the netminding duo of a team who has had a hard time finding their footing this season. Antii Raanta is the starting goaltender for the Arizona Coyotes, backed up by Scott Wedgewood. Raanta, despite his team’s struggles this season, has a handsome .924 save percentage, while Wedgewood has a .893 stoppage rate. Washington is in a rare occasion where, even if just by a little, their backup is surpassing their starter.
Grubauer also boasts this season’s only shutout for Washington, which came against the New York Rangers. The game carried into overtime and eventually into a shootout, where he Capitals would be forced to settle for a single point. But Grubauer didn’t allow any goals in regulation and one only got past him in a one-on-one shootout. This season, 45 total pucks have entered the net with Grubauer in it. At first glance, this may seem like a lot for only 20 games, but when one considers that he’s faced a total of 526 attempted shots, it really shows his dedication.
After this season, Grubauer will become a restricted free agent, and is eligible for unrestricted free agency. However, with stats as impressive as Grubauer’s, and with the notion of a Seattle expansion team hitting the ice in the 2019-20 season, the time to think about Washington’s future between the pipes is sooner rather than later. Holtby is locked up until 2020-21, and the Capitals’ goalies in AHL Hershey are both up for contract renewals as well. The Caps will reportedly have top prospect Ilya Samsonov, who continues to heat up in the KHL, but with all of their goalies’ contracts expiring within a year of each other, Washington should be looking to ahead to make sure there are no holes in the net at the start of next season. The threat of Grubauer becoming the starting goalie for a potential Seattle team in its inaugural season is all too real, especially if the NHL implements its “one goalie protected per team” rule for the expansion draft as it did with the Vegas Golden Knights. If that happens, the Caps will more than likely protect Holtby to see him stay in Washington for the final year of his current contract, leaving Grubauer exposed.
The opposite side of that coin is that some fans are dissatisfied with Holtby’s performance this season. Holtby has, admittedly, been in a bit of a funk since the All-Star Game break. While I, personally, believe Holtby will shake this off like any other professional athlete in a rut would, who can say what the thoughts of the Capitals’ management are? Perhaps we’ll be seeing Holtby and Grubauer take a more 50/50 workload to help each other out moving into the latter stages of the season, which could do a world of good for both players.
As it stands right now, Holtby and Grubauer are a dynamic duo; a starter and backup to be feared by all players who dare take a shot on goal against Washington. But both goalies deserve to be a starter, in Washington or elsewhere. For the time being however, Grubauer as a backup is a luxury I think no Capitals fan wants to do without.
By Chris Laroche