By Bill Sands
Going into a match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night with a chance to clinch the Metropolitan Division, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz had a major decision to make regarding his goaltenders. In years past, it would be a no-brainer to put in Braden Holtby, but Holtby’s recent struggles and the strong play of Philipp Grubauer made the choice a lot tougher.
Grubauer’s stats started out in the gutter this term, but that was mostly thanks to the schedule and how poorly his teammates were playing. Lately, however, that has all changed. Going into Monday’s game against the St. Louis Blues, Grubauer has 2.29 GAA and a save percentage of .924 on the season (from 34 games played). Holtby has a 3.01 GAA (his worst ever) and save percentage of .907 (another career worst).
Grubauer Superb Against Pens
With playoff seeding on the line, Trotz went with Grubauer against the Pens and was rewarded handsomely. Grubauer posted 36 saves and was an essential part of the Caps’ 3-1 victory over the Pens. In addition to picking up a big win and playing well, Grubauer staked his claim to the job as the Caps’ number one goaltender.
Despite his recent efforts, Grubauer had yet to claim the starter’s role. He and Holtby had been trading starts, and it wasn’t until the past week that he seemed to fully earn Trotz’s trust. The Caps spent almost a full week playing three games against Detroit, Montreal, and the New York Rangers, and Grubauer got all three starts. Holtby got the nod at home against the Rangers (in the second leg of their home-and-home series) and Carolina, but in the biggest game of the year so far, Grubauer got the start.
Grubauer In Goal For Playoffs?
With his decision, Trotz has made it clear that Grubauer is “the guy” for the time being and Caps fans should expect to see the German netminder getting the nod for the majority of the regular season and, in theory, the playoffs.
Every year, it seems like one goalie catches fire and leads his team on an improbable run during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Cam Ward, Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Matt Murray are all examples of netminders who got hot at the right time and led their team to surprise runs. With a strong field in the East, the Caps will need a spark to get them over the hump, and maybe Grubauer is that spark.