Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar won't rush into naming a starting goalie, saying earlier this week that "the bulk of the decisions when it comes to netminding is going to come between [the start of camp] and Day 1 of the playoffs." But the careful approach to such a key position isn't for a lack of confidence.
"I like the options that we have," Bednar said of the Avs' goaltender tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. "I think both guys are potential starters for us, and we'll make our decision as we enter Game 1 of the playoffs and not before then. Our team is confident in front of both guys. I think both guys have worked hard over the break to get themselves in top condition."
Francouz started 12 of the last 13 games before the pause as Grubauer dealt with a lower-body injury, finishing with an 8-2-2 record, a .919 save percentage and a 2.37 goals-against average during that time. That stretch was reflective of Francouz's overall season, in which he went 21-7-4 with a .923 save percentage and 2.41 goals-against average in his first campaign in the NHL.
The pause on March 12 halted Francouz's momentum, but he took it in stride. He spent a lot of time in his native Czech Republic over the last several months, and while he found it difficult to simulate goalie training without ice, he picked up a new hobby in his daily routine to stay in shape.
"There was no other option but biking," said Francouz, adding that the Czech Republic was mostly shut down like the United States and Canada were. "So I bought a mountain bike and biked a lot. It was kind of a new passion for me this spring."
Grubauer--who was one of the many Avs players who healed during the break--kept his reflexes sharp by hammering tennis balls against a wall and catching them, but nothing prepares a goalie for the speed of the game until they're on the ice, reacting to pucks lasered at them by pros.
"It takes a couple of days, a couple of weeks, to get used to the ice and the hand-eye coordination and the speed of the shot," Grubauer said. "We started (skating) three or four weeks before training camp (during Phase 2 of the NHL's Return to Play Plan), so by the time training camp started you're already adjusted to it. But I think the biggest difference is reading certain game-like situations."
Sidelined since getting hurt during the NHL Stadium Series outdoor game at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Feb. 15, Grubauer finished the regular season with a 18-12-4 record, .916 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average.
But if recent success favors Francouz, then playoff history might give Grubauer an edge.
During the most important part of the season last year, Grubauer posted a .925 save percentage in 12 starts, leading the Avs to Game 7 of the second round. Bednar said that performance, despite being over a year ago, will play into his decision this time around.
"Certainly what Grubi did last year for us down the stretch and playoffs carries some weight with me," said Bednar said before soon praising Francouz's "exceptional" year for a first-year player.
Video: Pavel Francouz after Day 2 of training camp
Video: Philipp Grubauer on returning to play with camp
The wait-and-see approach would figure to fuel the competition between Grubauer and Francouz, but neither player sees it that way.
"We're just a team heading to the playoffs, so I think we're going to need both goalies to be ready," said Francouz, echoing Bednar's suggestion that the Avs could use both goalies in the future. "I don't see any big competition here. There's just competition between the Colorado Avalanche and the other teams."
Added Grubauer: "You try to do your best in training camp, and it's up to the coaches to decide who's going to play. But I don't think there's a competition between Frankie and me. He said it too, it's a competition between the Colorado Avalanche and whoever we face. So whoever gets the call between the pipes has to do a job, and if you're not in the next game then the next guy has to step up."