Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

For the first two months of the season, Braden Holtby was the Capitals’ rock. While the team struggled 5-on-5, Holtby’s excellent goaltending — despite facing some of the highest shot totals in the league — kept the team in games. The 24-year-old started every night from late October to early December, a span of 13 games. The workload, though, eventually caught up with him. After allowing three goals early against the Carolina Hurricanes in December, Holtby was pulled. Enter a new rock: Philipp Grubauer. After being called up in place of the injured Michal Neuvirth, Grubauer has played in five of seven games, starting three. He’s picked up three wins, posting a .937 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.06. He narrowly missed his first career shutout earlier this month.

“I soak it all in just being up here,” Grubauer told me. “I’ve been through almost every league: East Coast, AHL. It’s tough to get up here, but once you get up here you gotta make sure you stay. I’m just happy to be up here, and I work my butt off.”

This call-up has been Grubauer’s first extended audition in the NHL after seeing two games in an unimpressive opening stint with the team last year. For the 2010 fourth-round pick, his playing time this season has been as much of a surprise as it is to those watching. Grubauer says he has felt comfortable in big-league locker room since training camp, but he’s honored to finally have the trust of an NHL coaching staff.

“They’ve put me in a situation where I can learn and show them I can do the job too,” he said. “This is my goal, as full goalie not just up and down. I want to be up here from the start of the season so that’s what I show.”

Grubauer’s last three appearances have been particularly nerve-wracking for a young netminder: his games against the Lightning, Panthers, and Flyers have all gone to a shootout. Grubauer has stopped 11 of 18 attempts in the skills competition. The goalie, though, said he was most pleased with his performance on Sunday, making adjustments after his 10-round adventure against Florida, in which he stopped six. He stopped two of three shots against the Flyers in the shootout after making 24 saves on 28 shots in the hockey part of the game.

“We watched some video after the shootout, made some changes today,” said Grubauer. “I was happy; not with the goals I allowed, but the adjustments I made from Florida to tonight were really good.”

Though he allowed four goals Sunday, Grubi displayed his explosive lateral movement once again, making a couple of fantastic post-to-post saves. In many ways, his play brings back memories of former Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov and his rocket-fired legs.

Even after all his playing time this month — 262 minutes — Grubauer is destined for the AHL again. Sunday afternoon, the Caps took Neuvirth off injured reserve.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Grubauer said. “I think I’ve improved pretty much every game I’ve played. Less is more up here. Less is way more up here. It’s what I’ll try to work on down there in Hershey if I get sent down. I’m happy with the games I’ve played up here.”

  • OlietheGoalie

    You’ve done us proud, Grubby. Keep playing well with the Bears, and we’ll be trading Nervous soon enough.

  • Jack Conness

    I am a big fan of Grubauer. He gave up that very weak goal tonight but he had some extremely impressive saves. I really think they should trade Neuvy and get what they can for him.

    I am from the Chicago area and I know the Chicago Blackhawks are having an awful time time finding a goaltender. Crawford is overrated and Khabibulin sucks. Not to mention they are both injured and Raanta and Simpson are definitely not the answer. They really need a goalie and I think Neuvy could go there. They have some awesome prospects in Pirri and McNeil that they could possibly go after.

    Just throwing that scenario out there but I think that could be an ideal destination for Neuvy. I think Grubauer would be a very solid backup for the Caps.

  • Myan

    It seems like Germans have a certain temperament that makes them really great goalies. With the amount of SOs we find ourselves in, I’m glad we have a German goalie on our side. Germans are always good at penalties…at least in soccer.

  • Chris Cerullo

    Neuvirth really isn’t an upgrade over Crawford though. They also seem to be doing completely fine although Crawford may be overrated in your opinion. He won a cup and probably should of won the Conn Smythe. I don’t think they have any need/desire for Neuvirth.

  • Jack Conness

    I politely completely disagree with your statement. The Blackhawks have probably the best defense 1-6 in hockey. Crawford RARELY sees 30 shots a game. Sometimes he only faces 18-20. When he played in the AHL, he wasn’t that good and gave up a lot of goals. A lot of people in Chicago feel the same way. I think if Neuvy was on that team, his numbers could be some of the best in the league.

  • Chip

    Love ya Grubi. I see no reason for Neuvy to see any more ice time this season (for us, any way) if Holts and Grubi can stay healthy.

  • Shea Angus

    I am definitely part of the trade Neuvy keep Grubi club. A few years ago when we played the Leafs (I live near Toronto so this is a big game for me as it earns me some bragging rights), Holtby got what I think was his first start, or if not it was early in his NHL career. I was BLOWN AWAY. He was the only reason we had won the game that night, and thought he should be kept on the Caps roster given our goalie struggles. I feel the same way with Grubi. He had solid stats, and a good couple of appearances last season, and other than a weak one tonight, was really good. Good enough to be Holtby’s backup IMHO. We need some defence, we got a guy that doesn’t want to be here, and a decent goalie that I see as expendable. The longer we wait the less value Neuvy has in a trade. Pull the trigger GMGM!

  • DC Hockey Nut

    Someone needs to make a T-Shirt of Scooby Doo, sitting and smiling, wearing Grubi’s jersey. Grubi dooby doooo!!!

  • Rhino40

    Or this: A squad of angry-looking minions, all geared-up ad sporting red sweaters.

    The caption: WE WORK FOR GRU!!!!