The Colorado Avalanche were a team fully expected to make the playoffs this season — but that expectation is rarely met by teams that struggle in net, which made it bold and a little terrifying that the team opted to run with one of the most untested goaltending depth charts in the entire NHL.
At the helm in Denver was a tandem of former backup Philipp Grubauer and first-year NHLer Pavel Francouz, who combined for less than 150 career NHL appearances when the 2019-20 NHL season began. They didn’t have any experience in the pipeline behind them, either, in the instance that one of them struggled; there was nothing but unseasoned prospects at the AHL and ECHL levels to serve as insurance depth. Things could have gone very wrong, very quickly.
Thankfully, though, the team’s gamble paid off. Not only did Francouz and Grubauer exceed expectations, but Francouz flew past any of the predictions for his year — and even call-up Adam Werner managed to show plenty of promise within the team’s pipeline during his pair of appearances. The club entered the covid-19 - induced pause sitting second in the Western Conference, comfortably in the playoff picture despite the tumultuous times.
Grubauer and Francouz have yet to be tested as a tandem in NHL playoff action, so there’s still a question mark as to how the pair will ultimately fare overall on the year. But when judging the team’s goaltending based on the regular season, at the very least, they deserve a solid A grade — even with Grubauer’s slight ups and downs.
Philipp Grubauer: B+ (36 GP, 18-12-4, .916 sv%)
After spending years posting save percentages in the .920-and-above range, it may seem like a bit of a letdown to see that Philipp Grubauer posted a second straight season of what many consider to be average-esque numbers for the Avalanche.
In reality, though, he did perfectly fine. The league average save percentage through the covid-19 pause was actually a .905, unadjusted, in all situations, putting Grubauer’s .916 comfortably above that. The only complaints that can feasibly be made about the German-born tandem goalie is that he once again looked just mediocre to start the season (he posted seven games allowing either three or four goals in his first 11 appearances of the year alone) and that he got injured, a far-too-familiar spectre for Avalanche fans.
Luckily, his tandem partner left the team with enough confidence in their goaltending to give Grubauer ample rest and recovery, which likely helped him as he cruised to yet another good showing this year. But while he was most certainly good, he fell a little short of ‘great’ — and was ultimately overshadowed a bit by his partner, who stole the show down the back stretch of the year.
Pavel Francouz: A+ (34 GP, 21-7-4, .923 sv%)
As mentioned above, this year saw the league’s overall goaltending average take a slight dip statistically. So while Grubauer’s numbers were still comfortably above average, that dip made Francouz’s rookie NHL season even more impressive to behold.
After impressing during his first professional North American season in 2018-19, Francouz made the jump to Colorado this year and ultimately split the season with Grubauer nearly down the middle. He was comfortable and confident during stretches where he needed to take on a heavier workload, smoothing out any small technical inconsistencies that he displayed earlier in his rookie AHL season and displaying effective, efficient play from start to finish.
Overall, he posted the league’s sixth-highest Goals Saved Above Average, only coming in behind Vezina considerees Tuukka Rask and Connor Hellebuyck along with Anton Khudobin, Darcy Kuemper, and Ben Bishop. And perhaps even more impressive, he only posted five ‘Really Bad Starts’ over the course of the year — a hard feat to achieve during a year that most goaltenders spend getting adjusted to the rigor of the NHL game.
There’s always a risk that this was just one dream-like, adrenaline-driven blur of a season for the rookie, and that next year we’ll see some of those hiccups (especially if the league ultimately has to condense the season into a shorter time frame). But after putting up seamless development over in Europe and then making a smart transition to North America, there’s really not much to nitpick about the way Francouz debuted for the Avs.