When Philipp Grubauer received the call Tuesday that he would join the Washington Capitals in Philadelphia Wednesday to fill in for the ill Michal Neuvirth, the 21-year-old goaltending prospect was simply happy to be in the NHL, even if it was on an emergency basis.
"Just make the best out of it," the German-born Grubauer said before Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Flyers. "If I get a chance, I try to be the best, same way I play down in the AHL."
Even though head coach Adam Oates admitted prior to game time that he would have given Braden Holtby a "mental break" after seven consecutive starts if Neuvirth was healthy, Grubauer wasn't expected to do anything more than warm a seat on the visitors bench and don a hat. Yet, after Holtby allowed four goals on 18 shots through 34:55, Grubauer was thrust into a baptism by Flyer less than two months removed from playing in the ECHL, two levels below the NHL.
"It was a dream come true," Grubauer said. "I dreamed about this since I started playing hockey. It was amazing. I try to step up and give those guys confidence and show the organization that I can do something as well."
In limited action, Grubauer, Washington's fourth-round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, gave the Capitals a glimpse into their future. The ECHL All-Star made 14 saves, none better than a sprawled-out glove save on Brayden Schenn during a Flyers power play early in the third period. Grubauer was poised and patient, all while looking wise beyond his 21 years and 12 games of AHL experience.
"Well of course I was nervous the first time, but once the puck drops, it's every other game," Grubauer said. "It's like every other game in the AHL. I couldn't really prepare for it."
Holtby, who coincidentally also made his NHL debut in relief back in November 2010, watched Grubauer from the bench and was incredibly impressed by what he saw.
“Grubby came in and did an outstanding job, so it’s good to see him get some action,” he said. “He looked calm. He stopped the bleeding to give us a chance to come back. He did great.”
The Capitals summonded Grubauer from the team's AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pa., on an emergency goaltender recall exemption, so once Neuvirth is deemed fit to return, Grubauer will return to the minors. He will return, however, with unparalleled experience in tow.
"I felt good," Grubauer said. "I learned a lot today. I learned a lot, but I need to work on [things] the next couple of months and go from there."
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