Kraken stretch drive calling on both Daccord and Grubauer

Boston Bruins v Seattle Kraken

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 26: Philipp Grubauer #31 of the Seattle Kraken celebrates with Joey Daccord #35 after beating the Boston Bruins 4-3 at Climate Pledge Arena on February 26, 2024 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

The situation of Seattle Kraken goaltending can be stated in terms no simpler than a John Mayer song lyric: 

“Back to you, it always comes around, back to you …” 

The situation: Philipp Grubauer and Joey Daccord, stall mates for a 2023-24 season that hangs in the ever-so-delicate balance with an eight-point deficit and 19 games remaining, have been working in unison to help the Kraken avoid elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Without a doubt, their efficiency will play a major role in swinging the odds in their favor. 

So far, they have swung far enough to keep them in the hunt, combining for a .913 save percentage (fifth best in the NHL). 

Goaltending is the least of their concerns. 

“They've been good throughout the year,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. “Our goaltending has been good from the start of the year on. We've been elevated, I would say, over the last couple of months. When Grubie did go down with the injury, Joey stepped up and did a real nice job.” 

In what seemed like a situation akin to a starting and backup quarterback situation, veering toward Daccord’s net, Grubauer has roared back on the scene after returning from long term injured reserve, stemming from a lower body ailment he suffered against Tampa Bay on Dec. 9, when he overextended his right leg to stop Nikita Kucherov on a two-on-one. It has the feeling closer to a baseball starting rotation these days, a growing trend across the NHL, far from the days of the likes of Roy, Brodeur, Richter, or Luongo commanding between 65-75 games per season. 

Hakstol, who this season has repeatedly scuttled any traditional starter and backup labels for Grubauer and Daccord, reiterated again on Saturday that deploying either goaltender will come down to a “game to game” basis. 

“Obviously, we're aware of what the schedule is coming up,” said Hakstol.  “We're aware that both guys have played well for us. We feel like we're going to need both guys to continue to play well.” 

For all intents and purposes, it’s still a “1a and 1b” set-up, with a gauntlet of 19 games left in the remaining 37 days. 

Daccord was earning the lion’s share in net two months ago. But since returning from his injury, Grubauer has been lights out good, owning the fourth best save percentage in the league since the All-Star break at .943. Before Tuesday’s win at Winnipeg, he was given the starter’s net for five of six games. One of those included a 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, his first shutout in two seasons. An ultimate metric in goaltending these days, “goals saved above expected,” has Grubauer at fifth best (7.3 above expected) in the NHL since the break per Rare has he been prone to a leaky save, or surrendering a goal which otherwise would be earmarked for a routine stop.

Sometimes, explaining all this alleged sorcery doesn’t require overthinking, especially if you ask Grubauer. 

“Just stopping the puck,” Grubauer said. 

“I don't think it's individual. I think it's a team, overall, the team collectively. I think we're doing the right things.” 

He wasted no time in deflecting credit. After all – the defense deserves the spotlight. The numbers justify the reasoning. Yes, they are tied for 17th in the league for shots allowed (30 per game). It’s not as if Grubauer and Daccord are getting a vacation. But according to Natural Stat Trick, they are seventh best in the NHL in high-danger chances (five-on-five) allowed this season. Across the league, they are often lauded for their defensive structure. This season, their wins come from more from the 3-2 or 2-1 variety, more so than the 9-8 overtime horse races that were on display one year ago.

“It's a tight race, so we've got to play playoff hockey,” said Grubauer. 

Daccord and Grubauer are different goaltenders. The latter is relatively stationary and insulated within the crease. The former will take calculated risks with leaving the crease to become a playmaker and move the puck quickly. 

In the former’s case, Daccord’s numbers have veered off pace in the last month (.881 save percentage in the last four games) after his watershed winter with an eight-game win streak, longest shutout streak in franchise history, and the signature blanking of Vegas in the Winter Classic. But with all signs pointing to needed rest after starting 22 of 24 games, Daccord returned to make one of the biggest miracle saves of the season to close out the Jets, 4-3 on Tuesday when he robbed Neal Pionk with a flailing blocker save with five seconds left, no stick in hand. Daccord turned in six saves on seven high danger opportunities. 

He couldn’t point to any reason for the jump in his game, except for a repetitive game day process to prepare for puck drop. Among the well-documented habits: virtual reality training, where he faces computer generated shooters inside of a headset

“I kind of have a game plan and a playbook for how I want to play,” said Daccord. “I think when I'm executing that how I want to, that's when it leads to success for me. It's just about sticking to that.”

“I think just sticking to consistent habits helps you create long-term success. Just because it's predictable, it's easy, you just follow the same thing every day. Same routine and ready to go the same way every night.”

The pattern has shown mostly that he who has the hot hand gets another turn. Tuesday’s win earned another start for Daccord against the Jets, ultimately in a 3-0 loss on Friday, where he helped keep the game scoreless until Mark Scheifele, left unmarked at the front of the net, took advantage of a defensive zone giveaway and failed poke check by Daccord and broke the tie with 12:45 left in regulation. It scuttled a game where the first 40 minutes were dictated by an air-tight performance, reminiscent of the mid-season Daccord that revived the Kraken playoff chances.

As Hakstol has preferred to avoid naming a starting goaltender well in advance of the lineup card deadline, the attention will again turn to uncertainty in the hours leading up to Tuesday against Vegas, a massive four-point swing game. The mission for the playoffs, after Vegas beat Detroit 5-3 on Saturday, is extremely daunting: chew off an eight-point gap with 19 games to play. 

But whoever starts at this point of the season, has given the Kraken at least a fighter’s chance. 

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