Kraken Should Be Concerned With Grubauer’s Early Struggles

Despite being only three games into the regular season, critiques of Philipp Grubauer‘s first start of the year have begun to roll in. In a 5-4 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks on opening night, he allowed five goals on 27 shots.

Grubauer’s play has been subject to scrutiny since his debut with the Seattle Kraken in their inaugural season, and the sentiment has carried into 2022-23. It may seem like an overreaction to question the goaltending situation two games into the season, but if the Kraken hope to contend for the playoffs in 2022-23, he needs to be better.

Grubauer’s 2021-22 Season

Following a successful three-year tenure with the Colorado Avalanche, Grubauer was signed to a six-year contract by the Kraken. In his three seasons with the Avalanche, he registered a 66-30-10 record and a .918 save percentage (SV%). He also had a goals saved above average (GSAA) of 28.07 (Natural Stat Trick), ranking ninth among goaltenders between 2018 and 2021.

That said, his play took a sharp turn once he began his tenure with the Kraken, as Grubauer’s first season in Seattle can only be described as a disappointment. Signed to lead the team into the future, he often couldn’t buy a save to keep them in games. While the rest of the team struggled mightily to produce, his play was a large reason why the Kraken finished with the third-worst record in the NHL.

Seattle Kraken, Philipp Grubauer WAR Player Card
Philipp Grubauer’s 2021-22 WAR Player Card (Courtesy of JFresh)

As shown in his 2021-22 WAR player card, he ranks well below the 50th percentile in several areas of goaltender evaluation. Not only that, but he also finished the season with a .889 SV%, which ranked last among all goalies with at least 45 starts.

Related: Kraken’s Grubauer is Not Living up to Expectations so Far

For obvious reasons, a team expects a goalie signed to a six-year, $35.4 million contract to be the backbone of their roster. Through one season, that contract looks like an anchor based on his play. Whether he can turn it around or not remains to be seen, but he’ll have to do it quickly to redeem himself.

Early Indicators of Grubauer’s Struggles

Despite only playing in one game, several recurring problems have carried over from the 2021-22 season. A notable issue in Grubauer’s game has been his lateral movement on cross-ice passes. Once a strength, his reads have been getting slower, leading to several “open net” opportunities for opponents.

While not an overly drastic example of this problem, the goal he allowed in the third period against the Ducks displayed his poor read time.

It was apparent that the shot was likely coming from the right circle, and even with the power play visibly directing passes there, he was late to cover his post. Trevor Zegras was able to place the shot inside the post, sneaking it past Grubauer to tie the game late.

This was also apparent in the Ryan Strome goal near the end of the second period, as he was unable to recover in time and let the puck squeeze under his arm. It’s unclear as to whether the issue lies with his push-off or body position, but his movement has been the root cause of many goals against him. With so many plays running through the slot, poor lateral movement can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

There are also several instances where it appears he loses his net, meaning he leaves more of an angle for opposing shooters. This happened most noticeably on the Ducks’ goal scored by Frank Vatrano halfway through the third period. Grubauer was playing well into his crease on the play, cheating slightly to his left in anticipation of a glove-hand shot.

While respect has to be given to Vatrano for placing the shot where he did, Grubauer could have made it much harder on him. Playing so deep in the net allows shooters to pick their corners easier and give them a better angle for their shot. The counteract this, many goalies play further out of their crease to eliminate direct lines to vulnerable spots such as the high blocker.

Grubauer can also be seen losing his net here, as he drifts further to the right than he should have. Perhaps thinking Vatrano will aim above his glove hand, he positions himself to the right-hand side of his net. This is also a symptom of his lack of positional aggression. Even if you lose your net, coming out further allows you to limit a shooter so much that the additional space is harder to recognize.

Philipp Grubauer, Seattle Kraken
Philipp Grubauer Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It may be of great value for Grubauer to work with the new goaltending coach Steve Briere on a new positional routine for the remainder of the season. One game isn’t an indicator of how the season will pan out, but seeing last season’s habits this early is a concern.

2022-23 Kraken Goaltending Outlook

As the Kraken move further into their season, a close eye must be kept on their goaltending situation as their success depends on it. Beyond Grubauer, several unknowns cloud the crease, as their backup goaltending situation appears shaky on paper.

The Kraken signing Martin Jones as their backup prompts many questions regarding the stability of the crease. Jones arrives in Seattle after posting his first .900 SV% since his 2017-18 season with the San Jose Sharks. Despite looking somewhat stable in his first start, his second start against the Vegas Golden Knights and his results over the past four seasons don’t inspire confidence that he’ll be able to keep that up.

That said, the options are limited if one or both goalies struggle to win the starting job. The further into the season they get, the harder it will be to recover from a stretch of poor play from their netminders. Ultimately, it’s on Grubauer to step up and take the net, as the Kraken paid him a lot of money to do so and he has yet to live up to those expectations.

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