Philipp Grubauer stepped onto the ice, Sunday morning at Kraken Community Iceplex just a few minutes after strapping on familiar white, burgundy and blue trimmed CCM goaltending pads, knowing that another familiar turn is right around the corner and one more game-like battle was ahead.
The Seattle Kraken goaltender, a prized free agent pickup last summer on a six-year deal as an anointed centerpiece while coming off a Vezina Trophy finalist season with the Colorado Avalanche, busted out his old protective gear from his Avalanche days for one final tune-up in front of a packed open house environment at Northgate, shortly before boarding a Sunday afternoon team flight to Denver.
Monday's 6pm PT game with the Avalanche (950 KJR / Kraken Audio Network) will end a layoff of no games since New Year's Day.
Grubauer, who said there was “nothing crazy” about wearing the old pads while putting in another order, will go back to Ball Arena for the first time Monday since leaving Colorado. He’s in the same boat as his Kraken teammates with the ideal of pursuing internal goals from this past week - where skaters and head coach Dave Hakstol have pledged a stretch of compete, puck battles, and intensity.
Goaltending objectives are on a slightly different track. Once rebounds appear, the time has come to battle.
“You’ve got to stay in game mode for sure,” Grubauer said. “You had a lot of time off and the big points (this week) were getting pucks to the net and scoring goals. So that’s going to help us in terms of being a goaltender, to compete and see second and third opportunities. Definitely a weird break but you get to work on some stuff you don’t get to work on.”
PODCAST: Kraken week in practice, emergence of Yanni Gourde, moving with no Jaden Schwartz
Head coach Dave Hakstol said the week in practice – preparing for three road games in four days, four games in six nights, and concluding with a Sunday assortment to include point shot, neutral zone play and special teams drills – was designed to simulate game intensity with traffic play to keep Grubauer and Chris Driedger sharp and alert.
“The biggest thing is we haven’t played in ten days, and it’s three games since beginning of the Christmas break,” said Hakstol. “It’s difficult trying to replicate a game level, especially a midseason game level during practice, but there was a lot of competitiveness in drills. For our goaltenders this week they had a lot of pucks with traffic and second opportunities in and around the net they had to deal with.”
“Some of those things are as close to game-like as we can get to, throughout practice and that should make it a challenging week for our goaltenders.”
Grubauer’s resume is a lot deeper with the Washington Capitals than the Avalanche, explaining an emotional return he had with Colorado three years ago. Washington was the team he broke into the NHL with, won Stanley Cup championship squad four years ago with, and ascended through the minor leagues with – from the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) through the Hershey Bears (AHL), then onto the nation’s capital
But just two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, Grubauer was traded to Colorado with Brooks Orpik in a cap-space clearing transaction, where Grubauer finally got a chance to start on a consistent basis after backing up Braden Holtby. He answered with three seasons bearing a 66-30-10 record in Denver with 12 shutouts – along with that Vezina finalist season last year.
Grubauer went straight to the point about Monday, conducting it like business as usual, while prepared with the Kraken to face the league’s top offense (an NHL leading 4.3 goals per game). Colorado is showcased by four-time all-star Nathan MacKinnon and budding superstar defenseman Cale Makar, Saturday evening rallying from down 4-1 to beat Toronto, 5-4 in overtime.
“Every experience is different,” Grubauer said. “Going back is always special. But in the end, we all play hockey and you have to re-focus on your work, and what you have to do. You have to blend your distraction around it.”
As Grubauer looks for new life after battling through a 7-13-4 record and .882 save percentage in 25 games, he’ll hit the starting blocks out of the break with his teammatesin a mile high environment, one where an altitude change takes drastic effect on fatigue.
“The altitude doesn’t help and it’s going to be a little challenging for our group,” said Grubauer. “(Former Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi) and I have done it enough over the last three years. That’s why you practice hard today, and the last couple days, try to make it game realistic – and it shouldn’t be a problem.”
NOTES: defenseman Jeremy Lauzon returned to practice on Sunday, skating with the Kraken for the first time since entering COVID-19 protocol on New Year’s Day … forward Alex Wennberg remains as the only missing member of the Kraken still in protocol, entering Jan. 3 … Colorado defeated the Kraken in their first ever meeting, 7-3 on Nov. 19 in Seattle … first ever meetings with Dallas (Wednesday) and St. Louis (Thursday) await before the Kraken return home to open a six-game homestand with Los Angeles on Saturday.
Practice lineup: Jan. 9
UNIT 1: Johansson (front), Eberle, Jarnkrok, McCann, Giordano (point)
UNIT 2: Donato (front), Geekie, Appleton, Gourde, Dunn (point)