Eide: Seattle Kraken start getting the Philipp Grubauer they need

Nov 26, 2021, 12:15 PM
Seattle Kraken Philipp Grubauer...
Seattle Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer twirls a stuffed salmon after Wednesday's 2-1 win over Carolina. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Prior to Wednesday’s Seattle Kraken game at Climate Pledge Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes, Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour was asked what he had seen from the Kraken on film.

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He began his answer with the typical coach speak, saying the Kraken work hard and that his Hurricanes were going to have to match that work ethic. But he also mentioned that he had noticed what had been maybe holding the Kraken back.

“I think the other part of it, when they talk about the goals that they’re giving up, I think they would like to see their goalie be a little better,” the reigning Jack Adams Award winner said. “And if it averaged out, they’d probably have a few more wins.”

Brind’Amour was onto something, as Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer did play better Wednesday night, making 35 saves to lead Seattle to a 2-1 win in the final game of a six-game homestand.

It was the second straight game where Grubauer was the difference maker. Two nights earlier, Grubauer turned away 37 Washington Capitals shots as the Kraken snapped a six-game losing streak in the first of back-to-back wins against two of the NHL’s best clubs.

It was a glimpse of the Grubauer the Kraken were hoping they’d get all season. The goalie looks like he may be finding his sea legs and the Kraken are benefiting. He’ll need to keep that form if Seattle is to have any chance of climbing up the standings and getting within striking distance of a playoff berth.

“He’s seeing the puck, he’s finding the puck through traffic,” Seattle Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said Wednesday night. “He’s seeing the puck and looks very calm and settled. He’s a guy that reads the play very well.”

Grubauer not only has seen the puck the last two games, but he’s playing with noticeable confidence.

That confidence was on display during a second-period power play for the Hurricanes. Carolina worked the puck around and Andrei Svechnikov had it on his stick with space and time. During the Kraken’s losing streak, a chance like that would surely end up in a goal, but it was different Wednesday.

Grubauer challenged Svechnikov. He skated out of his crease and out of the blue paint to cut down the angle. Svechnikov, who is one of the NHL’s bright young stars, took a shot that Grubauer calmly kicked away.

“Sometimes the puck just hits you,” Grubauer said with a chuckle. “It’s the same as timely goals, we need timely saves and finally I’ve made those the last two games. When I make some saves back there the team has a chance to win.”

Seattle’s last two wins were its best two wins of the season. It’s a small sample size but the team showed what it can do when they get solid goaltending and play a cleaner game defensively. They dug a hole for themselves in the standings and if they have any ideas of getting on track, they’re going to need Grubauer to continue his resurgence.

What changed for Grubauer?

The numbers are impressive from the Kraken’s two straight wins over elite teams. Grubauer allowed just three goals, making 72 saves for an impressive .960 save percentage. It might be too much to ask for those numbers from your goalie each night, but after a start that saw his save percentage in the mid-to-high .800s, the last two outings from Grubauer are encouraging.

Grubuaer talked earlier in the season about how there is an adjustment period when joining a new team with new teammates and a new defensive system. He went through it when he went from Washington to Colorado earlier in his career.

The past two games suggest he’s getting used to the Kraken system.

“I think everybody’s accepting their role,” Grubauer said. “We’re not a skilled team like Colorado who can score six goals, give up four and still win the game. We’ve got to go into the game with the mentality it’s going to be 1-0, 2-1. It takes everybody, we can’t just have five guys. We need everybody, every shift, and every situation.”

Seattle got that against Washington and Carolina. Grubauer spoke after both games about his teammates getting into shooting lanes and blocking more shots.

The Kraken blocked 20 shots against the Hurricanes and for the second straight game did a great job of collapsing around Grubauer to clear any rebounds or “second pucks” around the net. Blocked shots can be a misleading statistic. In a perfect world you’d rather not allow a shot attempt in the first place, but if the shot is going to happen, it’s better to have blocked it than allow it to get on net.

Blocked shots, managing the puck better, and comfort in the system have all contributed to Grubauer’s success of late. He’s communicating with his teammates on the ice, as well. After whistles on Wednesday, Grubauer would talk to his defensemen, assuring they remain on the same page.

“I’m not running any faceoff plays back there,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes I’ll just tell them ‘Just box them out’, make sure they’ve got the back door. Just small, simple commands on what you see in the breakouts, what you see when they stop the puck behind the net and who’s open.”

The Kraken will be in Tampa Bay on Friday for another tough game, this time against the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. Then Saturday they will be in Sunrise, Fla., to play the 14-2-3 Florida Panthers. That’s as rough a pair of games an NHL team could ask for. Seattle needs to start banking points in the standings and if it’s going to do that against two quality opponents, the Kraken will need Grubauer to keep finding ways for the puck to hit him.

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Eide: Seattle Kraken start getting the Philipp Grubauer they need