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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kraken need goalie Philipp Grubauer to regain playoff form for successful season

Seattle’s Philipp Grubauer blocks a shot on goal against the Dallas Stars during a playoff game last season at American Airlines Center in Dallas.  (Getty Images)
By Kate Shefte Seattle Times

SEATTLE – This Seattle summer was too beautiful to leave behind, Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer said, full of sunny days and volunteer work at a local horse-rescue facility. Only one gripe to note.

“Could have been a little bit shorter, in my mind,” he quipped.

The Kraken fell just short of the Western Conference final in May. They would have gladly put off their warm-weather plans for a deeper run.

Grubauer said he was the only Kraken player who stuck around home base all offseason, with its top-of-the-line facilities, strength coaches and medical staff who aren’t available to him if he summered at home.

“I’d rather do my stuff here where they see me do it, versus going somewhere else,” Grubauer said. “In Germany, we don’t have gyms and ice available.”

He quieted doubters during the Kraken’s first postseason run, comprised of two seven-game series in which he earned every start. He was the backbone of the Kraken’s most exciting month to date.

Now, the work continues.

Right after he compiled a league-best 1.95 goals-against average and seven shutouts and finished third in Vezina Trophy voting, Grubauer somewhat surprisingly popped up on the free-agent market in 2021, and the Kraken quickly signed him. He was their highest-paid player at the time. He provided star power on a brand-new team mostly made up of expansion team selections.

The first year was tough for nearly all involved, and Grubauer’s numbers plummeted. He was in the bottom quarter of all goalies who played 20 or more games in goals-against average and save percentage.

Fans and pundits were restless. He tried to ignore the noise.

“We see the game differently than somebody from the stands,” Grubauer said. “We don’t really pay too much attention to the outside. I don’t think as an athlete, you should. It can bring you down the wrong course, or it can get in your head or under your skin.”

He returned for his second season in Seattle under the eye of a new goalie coach. During one of his best performances of the young 2022-23 season, he was injured in Colorado and missed an entire month.

When he returned, backup goalie Martin Jones wasn’t ready to relinquish the crease. The Kraken dropped four straight Grubauer starts and six of seven in December due to a combination of factors.

“Tough starts, back-to-backs and good teams,” general manager Ron Francis recently explained. “But I thought in those games, he gave us a chance to win.

“Toward the end of the season, he grabbed the ball again, and he was really good for us in the playoffs.”

Grubauer started stringing together good performances in late winter, and he was the unquestioned starter going into the postseason. The first round came against his old team, in the barn where he’d gotten injured in October.

Grubauer turned in electric performances in a taut, emotional seven-game series against the Avalanche. Two of the best were the beginning, a 35-save outing in Game 1, and the end, when he helped his team make a slim lead last a painfully long time against the defending champions in Game 7.

The next series against the Dallas Stars featured bigger swings and a sadder ending. This time, the Kraken were the ones falling one goal short of advancing.

“Throughout the season, there’s always ups and downs. We grew together really quickly as a team,” Grubauer said. “Looking back at how far we’ve come as a team and how we’ve developed and how far we made it in the playoffs was pretty amazing.

“Cards are getting shuffled this year. Got to do it all over again.”

Jones is in Toronto now, so one of Grubauer’s former backups will be his new backup, giving him needed nights off. He split the net with Joey Daccord, but the coaching staff gave Grubauer the most home minutes of the preseason. He made 10 saves on 13 shots in his first full game Monday night at Climate Pledge Arena.

The net is his to run, and judging by the choruses of “Gruuu,” he has Climate Pledge Arena’s support.

Now, to keep it rolling.

“Pleased with the season he had. Happy for him,” Francis said in May. “We hope that he’s now set the standard where he thinks he can be at and hopefully starts there, and improves even more going forward.”

Grubauer said the team as a whole is seeking that elusive quality – consistency.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said. “But obviously there’s room to improve.”