Goaltender Philipp Grubauer was arguably the Capitals‘ best player down the stretch and into the playoffs last season when he recorded a save percentage of .937 and a goals-against average of 1.93, both the best in the NHL in each category, from Thanksgiving until the end of the regular season.
He was so good that he stole the No. 1 job from goaltender Braden Holtby in March when Holtby went through a 1-5-2 stretch from February 11-March 6. Grubauer started against the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins on April 1 with the Metropolitan Division title up for grabs and stopped 36 shots, including a larcenous glove save on star center Sidney Crosby, in a 3-1 win to help seal the division title for Washington.
Grubauer started the first two games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of his play down the stretch but got yanked after the second period of Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1. The 26-year old German netminder posted a save percentage of .837 and a goals-against average of 4.57 in five periods of play in the postseason. Holtby replaced him and never gave the net up, going 16-7 with a .922 save percentage and a 2.16 save percentage to backstop Washington to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Grubauer was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason along with defenseman Brooks Orpik, who re-signed with the Capitals on a one-year contract after the Avalanche bought out the final year of his last contract. Grubauer signed a three-year contract worth $10 million ($3.33 million AAV) with Colorado the following day after being acquired. The Avalanche traded for Grubauer after goaltender Semyon Varlamov missed 31 regular season games and all six of the Avalanche’s playoff games in their First Round series against the Nashville Predators. Varlamov only played 24 games in 2016-17 and has had a reputation for getting hurt a lot.
Grubauer made his debut with his new team on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center against the Minnesota Wild. His debut did not go as planned as he allowed seven goals on 33 shots, six of which came at even strength, in a 7-0 loss to the Wild on Saturday night.
He allowed a soft goal on forward Charlie Coyle when he ripped a shot from the high left slot with no elevation on it and another on Coyle threw his five-hole from a weird angle. He was completely out of position on another goal by Coyle, who had a yawning open cage to make it 6-0.
Not all of it was Grubauer’s fault. The Avalanche were outshot 33-16 and dressed six NHL players, not including him. At the end of the day, everyone has a bad game every once in a while and his team didn’t play well in front of him. And besides, it’s preseason.
Grubauer sure didn’t make a good first impression with his new team but based on how consistent he was with the Capitals the past two seasons, it was most certainly a fluke. He went winless in his first six starts last season when he recorded a 0-5-1 record, a .876 save percentage, and a 3.86 goals-against average but not because he was playing poorly. He was usually given starts on the second nights of back-to-backs when the Capitals were not at their best.
Grubauer rebounded in a big way last season after a slow start, so there is no reason why he can’t follow-up for an encore in Colorado.
By Harrison Brown