Why it’s too early to worry about Seattle Kraken G Phillip Grubauer
Saturday night in Arizona, the Seattle Kraken were a minute away from forcing overtime and salvaging a point in a game in which they had blown a 3-1 lead.
It wasn’t to be as Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse scored with 1:05 left in regulation to give the Coyotes their first win of the season by beating the Kraken 5-4. It was an embarrassing loss, one that Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol summed up as “disappointing.”
Goalie Philipp Grubauer started his 10th game Saturday and allowed five goals on 22 Coyotes shots. It’s the second time Grubauer has surrendered five goals this year – the first was Oct. 18 during a 6-1 loss at Philadelphia when he gave up five goals on 20 shots through two periods of play.
When a goalie gives up five goals, it’s easy to point at him as the reason the team lost.
The Kraken signed Grubauer to a six-year contract worth $5.9 million annually. The 29-year-old goalie was coming off the best season of his career with the Colorado Avalanche in which he posted a 1.97 goals-against average and .922 save percentage to earn a nomination for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the best goalie in the league.
During the NHL Expansion Draft earlier in July, Seattle signed Florida goalie Chris Driedger to a free-agent contract, making him the team’s selection from the Panthers. He was supposed to be the No. 1 guy until Grubauer was surprisingly allowed to become an unrestricted free agent by Colorado.
When Grubauer was signed, Driedger was thought to be a 1B and would give Seattle one of the deepest goalie tandems in the league. That hasn’t been the case through 10 games, however, and the Kraken are allowing 3.33 goals per game, the seventh-most in the NHL, while Driedger has yet to start due to a knee injury.
Saturday’s loss was bad, and while it hasn’t been pretty, Grubauer has been giving Seattle a chance to win games, which is the minimum you can ask of a goaltender.
Grubauer’s early statisical struggles
While the sample sizes are small, the early numbers aren’t great for Grubauer. His goals-against sits at 2.97, which isn’t terrible, but his save percentage of .886 is below hockey’s Mendoza Line of .900 for goalies.
Hockey is a team sport, and what happens up the ice and in the defensive zone can and will affect how many saves a goalie makes and ultimately their save percentage. But the Kraken are allowing 25.8 shots per game, fewest in the NHL. They are a strong puck possession team and garner 53 percent of shot attempts while playing 5-on-5.
Seattle is creating quality shots as well, with a positive expected goals percentage (xGF%) of 53.4%. The Kraken have forced 106 high-danger chances and only allowed 82.
The problem is that the opponents are cashing in on those chances more than Seattle. As a team, the Seattle Kraken have a high-danger save percentage of .750, second-worst in the NHL. On an individual level, Grubauer’s goals saved above average is minus-7, which means that he’s allowed more goals than the average goalie would be expected to.
When they do give up quality chances, the Kraken aren’t getting the big saves. That could be because the quality of those chances against is extra high, or they need Grubauer to come up with a big stop, or both.
The lack of a big, timely save is the most legitimate critique of Grubauer at this point in the season. The Kraken’s record would look much better if he finds a way to stop Crouse late on Saturday or Vancouver forward Conor Garland’s third-period go-ahead breakaway goal in the home opener on Oct. 23.
It’s hard to fault a goalie completely on plays such as those. They are Grade A chances, yes, but not impossible stops. Grubauer has made those saves throughout his career and needs to find them a few more times in Seattle.
Early on, Grubauer has been the workhorse with 10 starts in 12 games, but that shouldn’t be an issue this early in the season for a player who started 70% of Colorado’s games last year. Grubauer’s start has been slow, but he’s never had a season in which his save percentage was below .916 and there’s no reason to believe he won’t work his way to that form over the remaining 70 games the Kraken have on their schedule.
He’s simply been too consistent to suddenly become a sub-.900 goalie, and it’s too early to write his story for this season.
Cleaning up play in front of Grubauer will help
The Seattle Kraken were in Las Vegas on Monday to practice prior to a Tuesday matchup with the Golden Knights. Hakstol didn’t say who his goalie was going to be for the game, deferring the decision – or at least the announcement – until Tuesday’s morning skate.
Grubauer could probably use a night off and is sure to get one soon as Seattle has three games left this week, so don’t be surprised if Driedger makes his first start as a Kraken.
Asked about Saturday, Hakstol said, “We slipped in a couple of areas the other night and we know that. We’re going to own that in terms of some of the easy goals we gave up, the opportunities we gave up.”
“Opportunities” is the keyword from those comments.
The Kraken didn’t do Grubauer any favors as three of the five goals the Coyotes scored were a direct result of a Seattle turnover in a dangerous area. Of the other two, one was a power-play goal by Phil Kessel, and the other, Crouse’s first of the night that tied the game at 3-3, came after Arizona beat the Kraken down the ice to retrieve a puck behind the net that had been dumped in.
The goal that turned out to be the game-winner came after Adam Larsson fumbled the puck behind the goal line, leading to a pass into the slot where Crouse buried it.
Seattle needs Grubauer to find one of those tough saves, but it would go a long way if the Kraken managed the puck better to limit the need for them. For the most part, Seattle has taken care of the puck this season, but when it gets sloppy those turnovers end up in transition the other way and in the back of the net.
That’s not all on Grubauer.