Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has struggled lately as he’s posted an .811 save percentage and has allowed 19 goals in his last five games, going 1-4-0 in that span. Meanwhile, goaltender Ilya Samsonov‘s .921 save percentage ranks 11th in the NHL and his 2.24 goals-against average ranks fourth. Sound like a familiar situation?
It should, because just two years ago, Holtby briefly lost his starting job to Philipp Grubauer after a 1-5-2 stretch where he posted an .851 save percentage. Grubauer led the NHL with a .937 save percentage and a 1.93 goals-against average after Thanksgiving of 2017 and started the first two games of the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run before Holtby took the reigns and the rest is history.
Unlike Grubauer two years ago, Samsonov got off to a solid start this season. Grubauer started the 2017-18 season going 0-5-1 with an .876 save percentage and a 3.86 goals-against average before Thanksgiving. Through his first six starts this season, Samsonov got off to a much stronger start than Grubauer did two years ago as he went 5-1-1 (one loss in relief of Holtby) with a .918 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average.
Since his first six starts, the 22-year old netminder has posted a .932 save percentage and a 2.08 save percentage if you take out the Capitals’ 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on December 23, when he only faced four shots on goal and let one in. That’s awfully close to Grubauer’s stats after his first six starts.
According to HockeyGoalies.com, Grubauer had 15 quality appearances in the 2017-18 season, when he played in 35 games. Samsonov has five in 14 starts this season and is on pace to finish with 11 this season.
In the shootout, it’s been an adjustment for Samsonov as three of the five skaters he has faced this season have scored on him. However, Grubauer only one shootout round during the 2017-18 season and let goals in on the two attempts he faced.
Hockey Reference credits Samsonov with a .714 quality start percentage, an 86% goals-allowed average (percentage relative to the league goal-allowed percentage; lower is better) than the average NHL netminder, and a 2.31 adjusted goals-against average. Grubauer had a .679 quality start percentage, had an 87% goals-allowed average, and a 2.54 adjusted goals-against average during his final season in Washington.
Samsonov, who became the fastest goaltender in Capitals franchise history to win 10 games (12 starts), has been exceptional on the road this season with an 8-0-0 record, a .919 save percentage, and a 2.19 goals-against average. Despite starting more games on the road, Grubauer had more success at home that season as he posted a .926 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average in 10 games at Capital One Arena during the 2017-18 campaign. Though his .922 save percentage on the road that season is better than Samsonov’s this season.
Both goaltenders began to post sparkling save percentages starting in December in each season as Grubauer had a .962 save percentage in December 2017 while Samsonov’s save percentage this past month was worse but still a solid .927. Though Grubauer only played four games that month, Samsonov just played one game more. Samsonov’s .941 save percentage this January matches Grubauer’s from January 2018 while his 2.01 goals-against average is a hair better than Grubauer’s 2.03. Grubauer had a save percentage higher than .933 in each of the final three months of the 2017-18 season.
Samsonov has posted a .932 even-strength save percentage, which is tied for 13th in the NHL, this season while Grubauer was a tad better at .933 at even strength, which was tied for 17th. Samsonov has posted an .833 save percentage while shorthanded, which is tied for the fourth-worst in the league at the moment, while Grubauer’s sparkling .955 shorthanded save percentage was tied for 21st with Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Samsonov’s .877 power-play save percentage is slightly better than Grubauer’s .871.
Grubauer posted a .900 save percentage or better in two-thirds of his appearances during the 2017-18 season while Samsonov has done so in 78.6% of his, which is the seventh-best in NHL. Samsonov’s 3.78 goals-for average is the sixth-highest in the league while Grubauer’s 2.64 goals-for average was the 21st-lowest. Grubauer did face a lot more shots as he averaged 30.7 shots-against per game while Samsonov is facing 28.5 per game, the sixth-fewest in the league.
Grubauer had a .922 save percentage against the Metropolitan Division that season, which ranked only the third-best among the four divisions, while Samsonov’s .934 save percentage against the division is his best. His highest save percentage against any other division is a .917. Meanwhile, Grubauer posted a .922 save percentage or better against three of the divisions.
The two have both taken advantage of their opportunities to start. Samsonov’s numbers are boosted by a fast start while Grubauer finished the 2017-18 season with some pretty incredible numbers. Despite Grubauer’s sensational season, Holtby reclaimed the starting job after Grubauer allowed eight goals on 49 shots (.837 save percentage) in the first five periods of the 2018 first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets and went on to leach the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history, posting a .922 save percentage and a 2.16 save percentage in the process. After Holtby reclaimed the No. 1 job, Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik were dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a 2018 second-round pick.
Will history repeat itself? We’ll have to wait and find out.
By Harrison Brown