Capitals notes: Philipp Grubauer makes NHL debut to cap whirlwind winter

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PHILADELPHIA — It wasn’t too long ago that goaltender Philipp Grubauer was stuck with the Reading Royals in the ECHL, one level below where he belonged because of a domino effect created by the NHL lockout.

Once he got the opportunity, he starred for the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League and Wednesday got the call-up to the Washington Capitals when Michal Neuvirth was unable to dress because of an illness.

Braden Holtby made his eighth straight start at the Philadelphia Flyers, but Grubauer got to wear a Caps uniform in a regular-season game for the first time — and he made his NHL debut in the second period after the starter allowed four goals on 18 shots.

“Obviously the level of play is a little higher at the NHL level, the shooters are better, you have less time to react, so that remains to be seen how he handles that,” associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig said Wednesday afternoon. “But everything we’ve thrown at him so far, he’s done great.”

Kolzig wondered if spending more time in the ECHL might deter the organization’s top goaltending prospect. Instead, the 21-year-old “dominated,” Kolzig said, going 19-5-1 with a 2.30 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. He put up even more impressive numbers with the Bears in the AHL, going 6-4-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

The call-up came as a result of Neuvirth being sick, but Kolzig said Grubauer should take it as a sign of how the organization feels about him.

“As far as his makeup goes, I don’t know if there’s a goalie in our organization that has a better makeup to handle that situation,” Kolzig said. “Everything you throw at him, he seems to rise to the challenge.”

Grubauer on Wednesday found himself at Wells Fargo Center, reflecting on a busy couple of months.

“When you look at it, it’s been amazing,” Grubauer said. “I’ve been in the [AHL] for a couple weeks ago, played only [12] games and now I’m up here. It’s amazing how it all works and how fast it all goes. I try to soak it in today and get that first NHL taste.”

Plenty of bus rides have marked Grubauer’s long taste of the minor leagues. But his off-ice demeanor and practice habits have impressed Kolzig along the way.

“He’s a guy that is mature beyond his years,” Kolzig said. “He knows what he wants, he’s very coachable. You want him to do something or make an adjustment and he does it instantly. He’s very accountable.”

On the ice, Kolzig singled out athleticism and ability to read plays as reasons why many consider Grubauer a legitimate NHL goaltending prospect.

“He’s everything you want as a player,” Kolzig said. “Obviously the level of play is a little higher at the NHL level, the shooters are better, you have less time to react, so that remains to be seen how he handles that. But everything we’ve thrown at him so far, he’s done great.”

Green ‘a little sketchy’

Defenseman Mike Green played 21:54 Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes after missing three games with a groin injury and was “not bad,” according to coach Adam Oates.

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