Philipp Grubauer got the promotion he wanted this season from the AHL to the Caps' roster, but as Friday's game shows, he still is adjusting to life as a backup.
"I felt like I haven't played in a year," said Grubauer after Friday's game.
Starting goalies like to get into a rhythm and coaches are careful not to disturb that rhythm. But what about backup goalie who are called on sporadically? Those goalies do not have the benefit of developing a rhythm but are still expected to play well whenever they are called upon.
It is a transition not every goalie is able to make.
Last season, Grubauer played in 49 games for Hershey. Seven games into the season for the Caps, Grubauer has appeared in only one game. In that game, he stopped 19 out of 23 shots for an .826 save percentage.
"I thought he looked rusty and that's my fault, not his fault," Barry Trotz said. "He had to get some pucks to feel comfortable." He went on to say that he would have considered pulling Grubauer if he had allowed another goal.
That's how small the margin of error for a backup goaltender is.
Yet, Grubauer remained in and played stronger as the game continued, shutting out the Oilers in the final period as the Caps held on for the 7-4 win.
"It was nice to get into the game, shake the rust off a little bit and I think it got better as the game went on," Grubauer said. Trotz agreed with that assessment.
"He settled down. He finally saw some pucks. It's really hard to play the game when you don't feel pucks and they didn't have a lot of shots. It was a difficult game for him to play."
Despite the low save percentage, Grubauer got the win and that's what is ultimately important for a backup goalie as teams cannot afford to take a loss every time they give the starter the night off. That was a major reason for the Caps' struggles in back-to-back games last season.
When asked if there was anything he learned that will help him as he continues in this role this season Grubauer said, "You just got to prepare for the next time and take everything you can out of this game and just be ready for the next game."
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