While the playoffs don’t officially start for another week, the atmosphere in the PPG Paints Arena certainly had postseason written all over it. The tensions between the two teams just amplified that.
That performance from Philipp Grubauer was something straight out of a playoff storybook.
Staring down the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, looking to make possibly his final case to be the starter in the playoffs, Grubauer stood on his head to help the Washington Capitals wrap up their division.
A late, garbage time, goal by Patric Hornqvist kept the German-born Grubauer from being perfect on the scoresheet, but his overall performance was something to be admired.
Grubauer stopped 36 shots from the Pittsburgh Penguins, some right at the doorstep, as the Capitals topped their rivals from Pennsylvania by the score of 3-1.
While Barry Trotz has remained noncommittal on who is going to be his goaltender when the playoffs roll around, performances like Grubauer’s on Easter make it hard to go with anyone but him.
Having a Vezina winner as a fallback option makes it all the more sense to roll with Grubauer from this point forward.
Braden Holtby has been the guy for the past five years, and with his track record, few would blame Trotz for going with him again during the postseason. His struggles this season have been alarming enough to warrant a change.
Trying something new
At this point for the Capitals, and especially Trotz, it may be time to actually try something different. This season hasn’t been quite like the ones that have come before them.
This Washington team seems to be a peg down from some of their predecessors, but yet, could be playing the kind of hockey that could get them deeper into the playoffs than they have been in for a very long time.
They didn’t go out and get a big-name rental at the trade deadline, mainly because they didn’t have the pieces - or cap room to do so. Now they didn’t have to break up any lines, ruining any chemistry created throughout the year.
They have put more of an emphasis on playing younger players, with four rookies getting into at least 50 games this season. Now they seem faster, more skilled, and set up for the present and the future.
So with the Capitals having the best backup in the league, who has become too good to be labeled as such, is time for a change?
What Holtby has done for the team cannot be undersold. For a stretch of four seasons, he was one of the top three goalies in the league, having the hardware, and records to prove it.
Whatever happened last playoffs, especially against the Penguins, it just doesn’t look like he has been able to shake that, and it has carried into this season, posting career-worst numbers across the board.
Grubauer, on the other hand, has taken his game to another level.
Of all goalies with 1,000 minutes at 5v5, only two goalies have a lower goals-against per 60 minutes played (GA/60), and just Carter Hutton has a better save percentage (5v5 SV%).
So with the division on the line, and on the first-half of a back-to-back, the Capitals opted to go with Grubauer - who has never faced the Penguins in his career - instead of Holtby. Both were more than likely going to play, but this game was the far bigger in the terms it could help lock up the division.
It still doesn’t likely mean that Trotz is leaning one way or another, but it something that is going to help fuel goalie controversy talks until one is officially announced.
During the offseason, the Capitals had a decision to make when it came to the expansion draft. What it essentially came down to was between Grubauer and Nate Schmidt. While at times Schmidt would certainly help, it could easily be said the Caps wouldn’t be division winners without Grubauer.
While it could come down to the day of Game One to make it official, there is no doubting who the best goalie is in the Nation’s Capital, right now... and that’s Philipp Grubauer.
Should Grubauer be the starter, or should the Capitals stick with their longtime start in Holtby? Let us know in the comment section below.