After losing Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz announced on Saturday that he is sticking with goalie Philipp Grubauer for Game 2 of the series on Sunday night.
Grubauer’s rise to the top goaltending spot in Washington is one of the more interesting first-round developments, simply because he has managed to unseat one of the best goalies in the league over the past few years in Braden Holtby.
On one hand, it’s somewhat understandable.
Holtby had a down year by his standards and Grubauer has been excellent down the stretch.
But Holtby isn’t just some guy or some random goalie that we’re talking about here. He has been in the top-five in Vezina Trophy voting three years in a row and in the top-two in each of the past two, winning it in 2015-16. Even more, he’s been mostly pretty great in the playoffs during his career, entering the season with a .932 save percentage in 59 postseason games. That is the second highest save percentage in NHL history among goalies that have played in at least 50 postseason games (he is just .001 behind Tim Thomas’ mark of .933).
Still, the Capitals are sticking with guy that is probably “the hot hand” at the moment.
“I thought he was fine, there was nothing in that game that would make you say, why don’t you make a change,” Trotz said on Saturday (via Tarik El-Bashir of NBC Washington).
“Philip was really was good. I thought in that game we had the game, we kept letting off the floor. They got back into that game, then in the third period we took a couple of penalties that were unnecessary and they got back in the game. Then going into overtime you’re a shot away. All that being said it was a special play by Panarin, and there are very few people that can make that shot. He made that shot. We’ve got some guys that can do the same thing. We’re going back with Gruby, we have a lot of confidence in him, and he’ll be ready.”
Two things are very true there: It was a special play by Panarin (watch it here!), and penalties did get the Capitals in trouble in the third period. Tom Wilson‘s hit on Alexander Wennberg resulted in Thomas Vanek‘s power play goal to tie the game at two, erasing the two-goal advantage Washington had built earlier in the game on an extended power play of their own. Then, after regaining the lead, Andre Burakovsky took a terrible tripping penalty that sent Columbus back to the power play allowing Seth Jones to tie the game.
Since Dec. 1, the Capitals are 14-5-2 when Grubauer starts while he has a .936 save percentage, second best among goalies with at least 20 starts during that stretch.