The next man up is a common phrase used when teams look for some athlete to step up into a role usually unfamiliar. When it comes to goaltending in Washington, the next man up is a regular occurrence. Semyon Varlamov was once a young goalie for Washington that looked like he had a bright future in DC. Then after Varlamov came Michal Neuvirth. The 2010-11 regular season also had an interesting situation as well. Tomas Vokoun was the original starter until he suffered an injury, so back in was Neuvirth. Toward the tail end of the 2011 season, Neuvirth suffered an injury and the Capitals were down two starting goalies. The team was making a late season push and they needed a goalie to step up. Braden Holtby, the prospect from Hershey, had to fill the role.
Holtby was tremendous in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, especially against the Boston Bruins first round. Holtby was one of the main reasons why the Bruins did not have a repeat chance at the Cup. Holtby was also solid in last season’s playoff series against the New York Rangers nearly going toe to toe with Henrik Lundqvist.
Holtby came into the 2013 regular season as the main guy with Neuvirth filling the back up role. When Neuvy injured himself in pregame warm-ups before one of his starts, Holtby was back in. Neuvirth was put on IR and that left Washington with just Holtby as the lone net minder. Braden got a large workload, starting 14 out of 15 games. The wear and tear of starting so many games started to show on Holtby, so the Capitals needed to look for someone to step up.
Philipp Grubauer, a 4th round pick in 2010, was the next man up. Grubauer first saw action in a relief effort for Holtby, after a rough start versus the Hurricanes in early December. He was solid in that third period start against Carolina, so Grubi was called upon to start his first game against New York. On the road against the Rangers, Grubauer was fantastic allowing only one goal in a Washington win. After that, Grubauer started to see his starts increase.
He has now started nine games as a rookie and his numbers are extremely impressive so far. Philipp has a 5-2-2 record as a starter for Washington and has posted a .938% save percentage. His 2.02 goals against average is a great number as well.
His starting record is solid, but even better when looking into the shootout losses. Grubi gave his team great chances in those shootouts, forcing a 10 and 6 round shootout in those match-ups. So not only has Grubi been solid between the pipes over the course of a 60-minute game, but he’s got big-time poise when the pressure is on.
The Capitals goal-tending situation has become a topic of discussion as of late with the stunning play from the 22 year old. Michal Neuvirth seems like the odd man out, so his future in Washington is uncertain. Braden Holtby went into the season as the number one goalie unquestioned, but now things could be different. If Philipp Grubauer keeps playing at this level for the rest of the season, the Capitals could have a crucial decision to make at goalie heading into the post season. There has been so much turnover at the goalie position for years in DC with all the young goalies stepping up consistently. It probably has most fans in a craze because they so desperately want to know which goalies jersey they will be wearing to the games. While it could be frustrating to a fan in that sense, this situation is a good problem to have. Having two good goalies is better than having one or even none. Goalie is such an important position especially when it comes to the playoffs. The Capitals have a couple good goalies now and the decision for whom to start at that time will eventually work itself out. The number of young goalies that have come in and stepped up in recent years, shows how well Washington has done drafting goalies and also developing them in the minor leagues. Whether it is Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer that earns the number one spot heading into the playoffs, the Capitals are in good hands. The fans that rock the red have plenty to get excited about when it comes to their young goalies.