Seattle Kraken now getting the Phillipp Grubauer they expected all along

Jan 28, 2022, 11:00 AM

Seattle Kraken Phillip Grubauer...

Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer stops a shot. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

It’s hard to choose the brightest moment from the improbable 2-1 Seattle Kraken overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Adam Larsson scores OT winner as Seattle Kraken beat Penguins 2-1

Seattle won for the first time in overtime and did it against a team that was red hot and had won its eight prior home games. Jared McCann got a big goal late in the third to tie the game and force overtime. Adam Larsson won the game in overtime with a goal from the high slot.

Those were big plays for sure, but the game wouldn’t have been won without goalie Philipp Grubauer shutting things down on the backend. He stopped 23 shots and the only blemish on his ledger was a power-play goal against. At 5-on-5 he was perfect.

“Guys were blocking shots like crazy,” Grubauer said. “Getting in shooting lanes and letting me see the puck by boxing out guys, knowing where their forwards are. I think it’s building over the last couple of games at home. Last game wasn’t our best one, but I think since we’ve come out of Christmas break, we’ve been playing our game, and everybody is buying in.”

Not only have the Seattle Kraken started to string some good games, and wins, together, but so has Grubauer. The two are obviously connected.

It’s been a tough first half of the season for Grubauer.

He was the shiny free agent signing this past July, agreeing to come to Seattle for $5.9 million a year. A season prior he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s best goaltender. There was excitement, and pressure put on the 30-year-old from Germany.

Things did not start well for Grubauer or the Seattle Kraken.

The team worked him hard at the season’s start thanks to an injury to backup Chris Dreidger. In front of Grubauer, the defense was a work in progress, there were turnovers, and odd-man rushes aplenty, and each one felt like it would end up in the back of the net.

He wasn’t coming with key saves at key moments and the losses started piling up.

Grubauer’s save percentage plummeted to new depths for him and as a result, the team in front of him began to try to do too much, which only exasperated the issues. Suddenly, a goalie who has always been comfortably above the .900 save percentage mark was buried below it.

But things are changing right before our eyes.

Grubauer is 4-1-0 in his last five starts and has a .914 save percentage. In other words, he’s morphing back into the Grubauer that general manager Ron Francis was hoping he’d get.

Big moments for Grubauer

Thursday’s game for Grubauer came with a season’s worth of highlights.

He robbed Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter twice, but the biggest moment came during a two-minute stretch in the second period. The Penguins hemmed the Kraken in, making the shift look like a power play. Seattle’s Marcus Johansson broke his stick, meaning he could not do much to help get the puck out.

Pittsburgh had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the ice, and it became a shooting gallery. Grubauer didn’t flinch and kept the game scoreless.

“As long as you keep that at 0-0 you have a chance,” Grubauer said after the game.

Earlier in the week, Seattle was clinging to a one-goal lead in the closing minutes of the game against the Florida Panthers. Desperate to tie the game, the Panthers pulled their goalie for a 6-on-5 advantage. They worked the puck deep and got a cross-ice pass to Anthony Duclair, who had time and a wide-open swath of net to shoot at. Grubauer somehow slid across to get his glove on the shot and Seattle hung on to win. (Watch that save here.)

Those are the kind of key saves that weren’t happening earlier in the season.

Grubauer moving forward

Grubauer rounding back into form isn’t going to propel the Kraken to the playoffs, at least not this season.

But, if he gets himself right, gets more familiar with the defense in front of him, then it’s a huge development for Seattle moving forward.

His numbers are still suffering from his early-season malaise and his overall save percentage remains down at .885 which has him looking up at the rest of the league. His goals saved above average has been dismal, reaching as high, or low, as minus-20 or above. He’s made a dent in that number and has it just under minus-20 (which means he’s been making saves that the average goalie would not be expected to make) and trending in the right direction.

Playing goalie can be a fickle trade. So much goes into a goal being scored and it’s easy to point at the goalie.

Grubauer’s struggles this season fall mostly on him but the team around him has not helped. However, the play of the team and the goalie have been improving. A strong second half out of Grubauer can definitely help build momentum for the next season and that momentum is already starting to build.

Follow Seattle Kraken insider Andy Eide on Twitter.

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