UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Just over two months ago, Philipp Grubauer was playing for the ECHL's Reading Royals. On Saturday afternoon, Grubauer got his first NHL start, as he was in Washington's net facing a barrage of Islanders shots, as the team poured 45 shots on the rookie in a 5-2 New York win.
Just 48 hours before, the 21-year-old German netminder was summoned from Hershey to back up Braden Holtby in Washington's 7-1 win over Florida. With the Capitals playing the Rangers on Sunday afternoon — and Holtby appearing in a dozen straight games — coach Adam Oates felt the time was right for a switch.
"Just because Holts has played a lot," Oates said of the goaltending change before the game. "Obviously, we're confident with him; he's a very good goalie."
Grubauer is certainly one of the brightest prospects currently playing in the Capitals' system. After being injured with ECHL South Carolina last season, he started off the lockout with Washington's new ECHL affiliate in Reading while Holtby took a spot with the AHL's Bears. But since his recall to Hershey in January, Grubauer has played well.
After a "weird week" where Grubauer was recalled to Washington to sub out for the ill Michal Neuvirth and sent back, the rookie was called back to Washington on Thursday morning for the second time in just over a week.
"He's done an unbelievable job since coming to Hershey from Reading," Hershey broadcaster Scott Stuccio said Saturday. "The one thing that everyone in the organization notices is his unfazed demeanor. Nothing gets under his skin. His quickness down low is unbelievable and the team in front of him feeds off of every save."
Grubauer had a brief taste of the NHL last week, when he came on in relief of Holtby in Washington's 4-1 loss at Philadelphia. He didn't allow a goal on 13 shots, despite some prime chances against.
"It's always different to get the start, or get in during the game," a visibly disappointed Grubauer explained of the difference between his first NHL appearance and his start on Saturday. "You want to give the guys a chance to win every night. You try to do that, but [it] didn't work."
After looking a bit tentative early on — allowing a 2-on-1 goal to Josh Bailey that he had little chance on — Grubauer settled down in the second period and made some big stops to keep Washington in the contest.
"It's like any other game. Of course I'm nervous, but once the puck hits the ice, it's just another game," he said.
"Grubsy, he played unbelievable tonight," Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said afterwards. "Can't say enough about him. [Facing] 45 shots, and two back-door tap-ins, saved a couple of breakaways. He was phenomenal. He gave us an opportunity to win tonight."
Unfortunately for Grubauer's Capitals, the game got away from Washington in the third, as the Caps took a pair of double-minors and a 2-2 tie early in the period melted down into a very disappointing 5-2 decision for the netminder.
"It was good, but five goals at the end, that's not the way we want to play," he said. "Five goals, that's too much."
But Brouwer was appreciative of Grubauer's first NHL start.
"It doesn't reflect how well he played, that's for sure," Brouwer said. "He's got to be proud of the way he played, we weren't able to help him out a little bit more around the net, he made some huge saves for us, and if he continues like that, I'm assuming he'll get another start or two."