The Colorado Avalanche have had an extremely strong and successful season to date. Goaltending has been an indispensable component of the Avalanche’s climb to the top of the standings. Starter Philipp Grubauer and backup Pavel Francouz form a formidable one-two punch in net that allows the Avalanche to capitalize on their speed and offensive talent.
When the Avalanche acquired Grubauer from the Washington Capitals, they needed a netminder who could instill confidence in the team in front of him. Now, almost two years later, he has provided the elite goaltending the Avalanche hoped he could to solidify the team into playoff and Stanley Cup contenders.
Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier
Following an abysmal 48-point season in 2016-17, the Avalanche hoped that starting goalie Semyon Varlamov would rebound the following season. To some degree, he did. Varlamov started 47 games in 2017-18 and went 24-16-6 — an improvement from 6-17-0. Backup Jonathan Bernier did his best to hold down the fort after Varlamov’s season-ending injury, going 19-16-3. These goaltending improvements helped propel the Avalanche to a playoff spot and secured an almost 50-point improvement, finishing the season with 95 points.
Unfortunately, with Varlamov injured, the Avalanche faced the Nashville Predators in the first round without their number one goalie. Instead, Bernier and Andrew Hammond split duties between the pipes in the six-game series that the Avalanche lost 4-2. Bernier posted a 1-3 record while Hammond went 1-1. The Avalanche’s early playoff departure was not solely due to goaltending. Nevertheless, the Avalanche, aiming for a deeper playoff run, needed to fortify their goaltending situation to take the next step. Cue the trade for Philipp Grubauer.
Stealing Braden Holtby’s Job
Drafted in the fourth round by the Washington Capitals, Grubauer rose to prominence when Capital’s head coach Barry Trotz started him over Braden Holtby at the beginning of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Grubauer had been with the Capitals for six seasons, but it was his play in 2018 that made him a contender for the Capitals’ starting position. After Jan. 1, he went 13-5, including three-game and four-game winning streaks. This stellar performance was enough to nab the starting role for the postseason from Holtby.
Grubauer would only start two games for the Capitals, both against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals went down 0-2 in the series. At that point, Holtby reclaimed his crown and rallied the team to four-straight victories. Of course, Holtby led the Capitals to their first-ever Stanley Cup Championship that postseason. Any doubts about his abilities or future had been silenced.
Grubauer had seemingly faded into the background, but not without making a name for himself. His usurpation of Holtby had caught the eye of teams across the league. Clearly, here was a guy with the potential to serve as a number one goalie.
Grubauer vs. Varlamov
This potential is exactly what the Avalanche saw when they acquired Grubauer from the Capitals for a second-round draft pick. The Avalanche had struggled for consistent goaltending, and though Varlamov had shown flashes of solid netminding, his injuries and up-and-down play made him unreliable. Grubauer reinforced the Avalanche between the pipes. With Varlamov and Grubauer vying for the starting job, the Avalanche were in a stronger position heading into the 2018-19 season.
Grubauer picked up where he had left off in Washington. He posted an 18-9-5 record along with .917 save percentage (SV%) and 2.64 goals-against average (GAA). Varlamov struggled, finishing the season 20-19-9. Grubauer had emerged as the go-to goalie for the Avalanche heading into the 2019 playoffs. In fact, after the 2019 season, the Avalanche let Varlamov hit the market as an unrestricted free agent, eventually signing a four-year deal with the New York Islanders. Grubauer had yet again overtaken the number one goalie.
Grubauer as an Avalanche
Since his arrival, Grubauer has delivered exactly what the Avalanche needed. Aside from injuries, he has been a consistent, solid netminder that allows the Avalanche to contend against any team in the NHL. After a strong regular season in 2018-19, he led the Avalanche to a first-round victory against the Calgary Flames. He won four games in five starts, allowing only 10 goals. Then, in the second round, he helped the Avalanche contend against the formidable San Jose Sharks, eventually losing the series 3-2 in Game 7. Grubauer immediately made a positive impact on the Avalanche in his first season.
Expectations were high for the Avalanche heading into the 2019-20 season. After a successful postseason run and a few offseason additions, the Avalanche had the potential not only to win during the regular season but also in the playoffs. Grubauer has ensured that the Avalanche have capitalized on this potential. He is 18-12-4 with a .916 SV% and 2.63 GAA. He has been an integral component of the Avalanche’s success to date.
Unfortunately, Grubauer suffered an injury on Feb. 17 during the 2020 Stadium Series Game. Head coach Jared Bednar said it would be “weeks, not days” before he returns. Luckily, Pavel Francouz has filled in nicely since, but the Avalanche certainly are eager for Grubauer’s return. He helped propel the team to second place in the Western Conference, and heading into the postseason, he will be relied upon to lead a deep run.
Certainly, the trade for Grubauer has panned out exceptionally for the Avalanche. Even with the emergence of Francouz, Grubauer remains a key player and has developed into the goalie they needed.
Nick Haydon covers the Colorado Avalanche for The Hockey Writers. An avid hockey fan, he loves watching, talking, and writing about hockey. He strives to tell stories, providing insight and analysis with engaging content.