The Washington Capitals have finally answered the question that they long tried to avoid.
Philipp Grubauer will be the man in net for Game1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Longtime starter and former Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby will backup Grubauer, who has posted career highs in almost every statistical category.
After a stretch that put him among the best in the game, a rough playoffs last season has carried over to this season, causing Holtby to post career worst numbers.
“I just think that Grubi deserves the opportunity,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “Trust me, it wasn’t an easy decision.”
While it can’t be an easy decision, benching the guy thought as your franchise goaltender, the numbers really tell a different tale.
Make no mistake, while Holtby has struggled for the majority of the season, Grubauer earned this on his own merit.
Earning his role
The German born Grubauer has spent each of the last three seasons behind Holtby, doing what he can with the limited amount of playing time he saw. Slowly, however, Grubauer emerged as one of the best backups in the league and was thought to be prime trade bait this past offseason for the salary cap-conscious Capitals.
For a team that has spent trade deadline after trade deadline mortgaging the future for immediate help, it has been the deal they didn’t make that has paid off the most.
Not only has Grubauer been one of the best backups in the league, he has been one of the best overall in stretches. His even strength save percentage (SV%) was third among all goaltenders with at least 1,000 minutes of 5v5 play. He also stopped the prime opportunities he faced, finishing with the fourth best high-danger save percentage (HDSV%) in the league.
After his brilliant start against the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champs and rival Pittsburgh Penguins, it became clear that Grubauer should be the guy, at least to start, come playoff time.
With a chance to wrap up the division, and while being on the first half of a back-to-back, Trotz still opted to go with Grubauer, who responded with a 36-save victory in his first career start against the Penguins.
Matchup against the Blue Jackets
In another show that the Capitals took into account more of the body of work this season, as opposed to overall, Grubauer has only faced the Blue Jackets three times in his career. Losing his two starts versus Columbus, Grubauer’s lone appearance this season came in relief of Holtby, stopping all 18 shots he faced in about 39 minutes of action.
Holtby, on the other hand, has posted a solid .914 SV% in 21 career games against Columbus, posting a 14-4-2 in those contests.
The Capitals and Blue Jackets open up their first-round matchup, Thursday night at 7:30 PM ET, Washington, with Game 2 being on Sunday. This will be the first time the two teams will face off against each other in the playoffs. Here is a breakdown of the first round matchup, done by Vavel.
Did the Capitals make the right decision in naming Grubauer the Game 1 starter? How short a leash will he have throughout the playoffs? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.