NEW YORK—Philipp Grubauer didn’t get the ‘W’ Sunday at Madison Square Garden, but his scintillating 28-save performance against the Rangers still managed to bolster the backup’s standing as the NHL’s best No. 2 netminder.
Grubauer, in fact, now leads the league in quality start percentage (.786), having posted 11 quality starts in 14 opportunities. The guy right behind him? Wild starter and Vezina Trophy favorite Devan Dubnyk, who boasts a .756 quality start percentage in 45 opportunities.
“Grubi has got a lot of the tougher starts, the back-to-backs, and he’s accepted that and he’s come out and played well,” Coach Barry Trotz said.
Indeed, Grubauer was called upon early and often in Sunday’s game as he stopped 18 of the Rangers’ 19 first period shots. It was the second game of a back-to-back set for the Caps, and it included a quick turnaround and no morning skate.
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Trotz acknowledged that the Caps’ post-bye week schedule factored into the goalie rotation over the weekend. The team practiced on Friday, then hit the road for back-to-back matinees in Detroit and New York. That meant no morning skate in either city. And because Holtby, who is also having a strong season, prefers to face shots during the morning skate prior to a start, the staff decided to tap him against the Red Wings since the starter against the Rangers would go two days without the benefit of a morning skate.
Which, of course, is the sort of thing that happens to backups.
“We thought [Grubauer’s] mindset would be much better to handle that than Braden, who is used to being in there all the time,” Trotz explained. “[Grubauer] was very accepting of that. He’s played fantastic for us this year.”
Grubauer said the Caps’ slow start against the Rangers actually helped him get back into the groove following six days off and the team’s challenging weekend schedule.
“It was good to get into the game, but that’s not the way we want to start,” he said. “You’ve got to find your rhythm again and it helped to get a couple of [quality] shots early.”
Trotz said the game could have been “5-0 in the first period, not 1-0” without Grubauer. And his players agreed.
“Grubi was outstanding, in the first especially,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
Nicklas Backstrom added: “Grubi kept us in there in the first period. He kept us in the game there. We were lucky we were only down a goal. It could have been more, but he made some huge saves.”
Performances such as that one have helped Grubauer rack up some outstanding numbers. Overall, the 25-year-old German is third in both save percentage (.932) and goals against average (1.98) among goalies with at least 15 appearances. In addition, he’s got three shutouts, including two in his last six starts.
It also seems likely that Grubauer will hear his number called frequently down the stretch with five sets of back-to-backs remaining. With 14 starts already this season, he just two behind the career-high he established last year.
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