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If there's a goaltender competition, Colorado's netminders aren't sweating it

AJ Haefele Avatar
July 14, 2020

One of the many things that make hockey great is the opportunity to show what you’re made of. Teams regularly play 12 forwards and six defensemen every night, meaning players are competing for roles among a handful of specific jobs.

But not goaltenders.

At any given time, there’s just one man standing in net as the last line of defense to keep the other team from scoring. The singularity of the position creates inherent competition among the guys brought in to do that job.

If you surveyed the NHL, the results would come back and say the goaltending position is likely Colorado’s biggest weakness heading into the NHL’s sprint for the Stanley Cup next month.

In reality, Colorado had very strong goaltending this season; it just came from two players instead of one star and his passable backup. Both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz had moments in the spotlight, playing brilliantly some nights and being unable to stop a beach ball on others (though those nights were far more limited this year).

With Colorado’s Stanley Cup-contending roster mostly set, the question of who would be the started once again worked its way to the forefront. While head coach Jared Bednar said they would use training camp as an opportunity to sort that out, the goalies themselves aren’t sweating the spotlight.

The exact opposite is happening, in fact, as both Francouz and Grubauer denied any concern about competition and instead embraced an “us against the world” mentality.

“We are just a team heading to the playoffs,” Francouz said. “I think we are gonna need both goalies to be ready and feeling good so I don’t see any big competition here, there is just competition between Colorado Avalanche and the other teams.”

Grubauer echoed that sentiment in his follow-up interview.

“You try to do your best in training camp and it’s up to the coaches,” Grubauer said. “They are deciding who’s gonna play but I don’t think there is a competition between Frankie and me. He just said it, too. It’s a competition between the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues or whoever we gonna play and face so whoever gets the call between the pipes has got to do a job and if you’re not in the next game the next guy has gotta step up so it’s a team sport and we all gotta be ready and I think training camp gives us enough time to be ready for the first game.”

Whoever gets the call will have the pressure of backstopping one of the favorites to come out of the west this year as Colorado’s maturation as a squad has placed them as one of the frontrunners, especially now that they’re healthy.

“We just started the camp,” Francouz said. “Two practices in, but I can feel that most of the players are already in good shape and we are going to build on that and be better and better. We still have time to adjust and get set. Those round-robin games are going to help us too so I feel like we will be back in the right time.”

Getting back into the rhythm as a skater is very different than the life of a goaltender, who requires reps seeing pucks and reading plays in live-action to really get the legs back under them. Both players acknowledged the unique challenge in front of them in not having much time to find the best they have to offer.

“Of course I had some time without skating and it was tough to go on the ice after two months,” Francouz said. “I think the hardest part is over me already because I was skating back home and we had a chance to skate pretty early. It was really tough to be honest but the toughest part is behind me and now I’m happy I can skate with the team here and we’re practicing with the best players in the league so that helps a lot to adjust to speed. I think we still have some time to be better and better every day and I’m hoping we’ll be at our best when it really starts.”

Even when the round-robin begins, Colorado will have played just one exhibition game by that point. It’s simply not very much time for goaltenders to get their midseason form back, especially after the team had gelled so nicely in front of them right before the shutdown.

“Obviously playing every game makes a huge difference between having a game and sitting out for a couple,” Grubauer said. “I think getting into the groove and reading the game, system-wise I think we started playing the right way and figured it out as a team. You can only do so much but it’s a team sport so you rely on everybody else too. Reading off the guys helped a lot and we found a way to figure it out so hopefully in training camp when we start the scrimmages we are going to get back to what we left basically in February and March so it’s gonna be definitely an exciting step and a little bit challenging as well.”

Despite the struggles of trying to stay in shape and keep focused during the shutdown when they couldn’t simulate the NHL speed on the ice, they each tried to make the best of a frustrating situation.

“I don’t think there is much you can do off the ice,” Grubauer admitted. “Obviously it’s great to be back and to get this going. The things I did back home during the quarantine was like a couple tennis balls with a tennis racket hammer them against the wall catch them, that’s the only thing. I have a couple computer programs but, there’s nothing you can simulate what’s going on on the ice so, starting practice a little bit early getting your shots in. Then it takes a couple days a couple weeks to get used to the ice, and the hand-eye coordination, to the speed of the shot. We started three or four weeks before training camp so by the time training camp yesterday started you were already adjusted to it but I think the biggest difference is getting into reading certain situations and game-like situations.”

While their chances at game-like situations will be limited, Francouz and Grubauer are each going to get extended looks to prove they belong in the net. Even when one guy gets the nod, the other knows there’s a decent chance he sees action at some point and will have to stay ready.

In an unprecedented playoff, the “us versus the world” mentality may prove to be the right stuff after all.

News and Notes

  • The Avs are working hard, but also trying to keep it light, incorporating a lot of competitive games into practice today. Bednar had all of the forwards defending odd man rushes and awarded the winner to whoever gave up the least amount of goals. Kadri’s line pulled out the win in session one, while Compher’s line did in session two.
  • After getting beat wide by Nichushkin early in practice, Timmins stepped his game up the rest of practice and earned a lot of vocal praise from the coach, particularly after going a perfect six for six in breaking up two on one rushes. At the end of practice, he then took the puck off Nathan MacKinnon and fed Jacob MacDonald for a goal in a mini game. Not a bad first two days for the young defenseman.
  • Speaking of Nichushkin, he was on his game today, playing with Nazem Kadri and new winger Gabriel Landeskog. He was flying all over the ice and looks eager to pick up where he left off when the league shut down.
  • Bowen Byram had a quiet day but didn’t do much to stand out in any way. Regardless of whether he makes the cut to go with the team to Edmonton, these two weeks will basically act as the development camp for him to prepare him for the 2020-21 season. And who knows, maybe he finds a way into the lineup in the coming weeks.



Post-Practice Audio:

Pavel Francouz:

Philipp Grubauer:

Sam Girard:

Jared Bednar:

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