Philipp Grubauer hasn’t exactly looked like the Colorado Avalanche’s goalie of the future (or present) very often this season, but that’s changed lately — and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
There were plenty of stretches lately where the Avalanche’s situation looked dire. With all apologies to sudden journeyman Derick Brassard, it’s not exactly as if the Avalanche approached the trade deadline like a team with high hopes.
MacKinnon seemed to yell “do your job” to Bednar, but perhaps the message was meant for a broader audience. Maybe MacKinnon was trying to say that, as great as his top line has been, he can’t do it alone.
So, with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen missing time, and the season on the line, it became that much clearer that MacKinnon really couldn’t carry the Avs on his back. Colorado could have faded from the playoff picture, but instead, Grubauer began a clutch hot streak.
Since February began, Grubauer’s gone 7-3-1 with a fantastic .949 save percentage. That save percentage only trails Ben Bishop‘s astounding work among goalies who’ve played in at least a few games during that span.
He’s been especially hot lately, going 5-0-1 in his last six starts, allowing just nine goals in those six appearances.
As the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reported before Wednesday’s 4-3 win against the Golden Knights, both Bednar and defenseman Tyson Barrie used the phrase “in the zone” to describe Grubauer’s recent play.
“He’s in a zone,” Barrie said. “He’s feeling it. He’s playing unbelievable, giving us a chance every night.”
The plan was almost certainly for Grubauer to transition into becoming the full-fledged starter for the Avalanche, what with Semyon Varlamov in a contract year. Sometimes Varlamov ended up playing superior hockey (he appeared in more games than Grubauer before this February tear), sometimes Varlamov has been injured, and sometimes both goalies have struggled.
It was fair to worry if there’d be a time when Grubauer would really show why the Avalanche made such an investment in acquiring and signing him during the summer, but all of a sudden, things look good both now and going forward.
Now, none of this is to say that Grubauer is guaranteed to carry this hot streak over to an unwavering run as the No. 1. Plenty of goalies enjoy hot and cold streaks — something Grubauer can attest to from his memories of gaining and then losing the starting gig for the Capitals last season.
Frankly, if we’ve learned anything from situations like Jake Allen not quite justifying being handed the baton in St. Louis – and then Jordan Binnington saving the Blues’ season – most teams are wise in having backup plans (and backup-to-the-backup plans) in net. All things considered, the Avalanche should still be heavily scouting goalie options, whether that means pending free agents, prospects, or even goalies overseas.
Still, it has to be comforting for the organization to see Grubauer possibly muscling the Avs into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and thus joining the Matt Duchene trade as a moment where Joe Sakic & Co. ended up looking pretty smart.
Of course, the situation could look very different if the goaltending pendulum swings the other way again.
Grubauer’s fantastic work showed that, yes, actually, the Avalanche can win games where they aren’t just relying on MacKinnon’s top line to drag them to victory.
Asking a goalie to steal too many games is a risky proposition in a more scoring-happy 2018-19 season, though, so the other bit of sunshine from Colorado comes in the news that Landeskog might be able to return for Friday’s crucial game against the Arizona Coyotes, another team in the running for one of the West’s wild-card spots. If Landeskog returns, he’d beat even the lower end of his original window of recovery, as he was expected to miss four-to-six weeks after being injured on March 7.
As stellar as Grubauer has been, the Coyotes haven’t allowed many goals lately, so Landeskog could very well tip the scales in Colorado’s favor.