The title "Washington Capitals' goalie of the future" has been imparted so often over the last five seasons that it is starting to become an inside joke.
Philipp Grubauer can now be added to the list of Washington netminders worthy of the moniker.
On Aug. 30 of this year, the 22-year-old German was ranked sixth among the Capitals' top 10 prospects by Corey Masisak of NHL.com. Grubauer was the only goaltender on the list.
With his inclusion on this and other prospect lists, Grubauer is implicitly expected to be the Capitals' number one goaltender sometime in the future.
In the meantime, a more important question persists: Will Philipp Grubauer become the Washington Capitals' number one goaltender this season?
Based on Grubauer's play in 2013-14, the above question should be taken very seriously.
View the following table to see how Grubauer's 2013-14 numbers compare with those of Holtby and Neuvirth:
|Washington Capitals' 2013-14 Individual Goaltending Statistics|
Those numbers are impressive for a rookie or a veteran. In fact, if this statistical performance continues, Grubauer will quickly become the Capitals' number one goaltender.
But the thing is, Grubauer may already be the Capitals' number one goaltender.
Don't believe me? Here are three trends that have arisen during Grubauer's rapid ascent that help him stake a claim to the starting goaltending job:
- Grubauer has been given the heavier workload.
- Holtby no longer plays the tough opponents.
- Neuvirth has been completely displaced as a goaltending option.
To prove all three points, here is a list of the Capitals' starting goaltender for the last 13 games, a period beginning with Neuvirth being placed on the injured reserve prior to the game on Dec. 3, according to The Washington Post.
The Capitals' opponent is listed with their record, points and position within the standings for their division, conference and the NHL at the time of the game. The goalie of record is also listed. Any other goalie used in that game is listed in parentheses with the starting goalie listed first:
|Washington Capitals' Goaltenders/Results Over Last 13 Games|
|Dec. 30||Senators||16-18-7||39||6/10/21||Grubauer||L: 3-1|
|Dec. 29||Sabres||10-24-4||24||8/16/30||Grubauer||L: 2-1 SO|
|Dec. 27||Rangers||18-18-2||38||4/9/19||Grubauer||W: 3-2|
|Dec. 23||Ducks||26-7-5||57||1/1/1||Grubauer||L: 3-2|
|Dec. 21||Devils||14-15-7||35||5/10/22||Holtby||L: 5-4 OT|
|Dec. 20||Hurricanes||14-13-7||35||4/9/19||Grubauer||W: 4-2|
|Dec. 17||Flyers||14-15-4||32||5/11/23||Holtby||L: 5-2|
|Dec. 15||Flyers||14-15-3||31||6/12/24||Grubauer||W: 5-4 SO|
|Dec. 13||Panthers||10-17-5||25||7/14/27||Grubauer||L: 3-2 SO|
|Dec. 10||Lightning||17-10-2||36||4/5/14||(Holtby)/Grubauer||W: 6-5 SO|
|Dec. 8||Rangers||15-14-1||31||3/8/19||Grubauer||W: 4-1|
|Dec. 7||Predators||13-13-3||29||7/12/21||Holtby||W: 5-2|
|Dec. 3||Hurricanes||10-12-5||25||6/11/23||Holtby/(Grubauer)||L: 4-1|
As evidence of the first trend, Grubauer started eight of the 13 games in the month of December, despite the recent promotion and the fact that he had only played in two NHL games in his career up to that juncture. Plus, the goalie Neuvirth replaced in the lineup was the backup, not the starter. To receive the bulk of the starts with the incumbent starter still available is a significant development.
Regarding the second trend, neither Holtby or Grubauer faced a lot of quality competition in December.
During the month, Washington played only three teams that would have qualified for the postseason at the time of their game with Washington. Holtby faced one such "playoff team." Grubauer faced two.
In the first major indication that Grubauer had taken over the starting job, the rookie netminder faced off with the New York Rangers on Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden. Not only was this Grubauer's first time playing at MSG, it was also his first time playing against the Rangers altogether.
The Rangers represent one of the Capitals' most heated rivalries, and one with whom Holtby is intimately familiar.
Holtby has played the Broadway Blueshirts six times during his regular season career, compiling a 2-3-1 record with a stout .943 save percentage and a stellar 1.95 goals against average, according to Hockey-Reference.com. These numbers are in addition to those Holtby has compiled in 14 playoff games against the Rangers.
The fact that Grubauer was chosen over Holtby to face the Capitals' old foe says quite a lot. Grubauer said even more with his play, stopping 30 of 31 shots and not allowing a goal until 18:07 of the third period.
For the Capitals' next game, Holtby faced the Tampa Bay Lightning, which had the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference at the time.
Holtby imploded immediately, allowing three goals on the first eight shots he faced. He was summarily relieved by none other than Grubauer himself, who allowed only two goals on 34 shots, leading the Capitals to a wild 6-5 victory in the shootout on Dec. 10.
The Ducks also boast the third-best offense in the league in terms of goals per game, at 3.15. Grubauer held them below their average by allowing three goals in a hard-fought 3-2 loss in regulation.
Number one goalies don't allow three goals on eight shots in a big game on home ice against a quality opponent. And number two goalies don't face the best team in the league. Clearly, Grubauer has been playing like number one and Holtby has been playing like number two.
Finally, Neuvirth is nowhere to be found on this list, even though he returned from his conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears on Dec. 18, according to CSNWashington.com.
If Neuvirth were still receiving the occasional start, one could make a strong case that Grubauer is not the number one goalie but simply one head on a three-headed goaltending monster. But Neuvirth has been virtually decapitated and Holtby is withering away, leaving Grubauer head and shoulders above his competition.
Even the Capitals' players can see the truth about Grubauer, as Troy Brouwer told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post on Dec. 28:
He’s been given a great opportunity here. He’s running with it as good as anybody I've seen. He’s getting the call most nights because of his play. You can’t take him out of the net just because he might not be the on-paper number one, but he’s sure playing like he is.
That he is.
Now Capitals fans must watch to see if Grubauer remains the Capitals' number one goaltender throughout the regular season, therefore earning himself a new, more serious title: "Washington Capitals' goalie of the present".
Note: All statistics updated through Dec. 30 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.