The Washington Capitals won their third straight Metropolitan Division title Sunday night after defeating their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena. The more significant development may have been backup Philipp Grubauer cementing himself as the team’s No. 1 netminder for the postseason over Braden Holtby.

Grubauer stopped 36 of 37 shots, boosting his overall save percentage to .925. Holtby, by comparison has a .907 save percentage. The league average is .913. As a result, Grubauer gives Washington its best chance at a deep playoff run — but first he will have to get through his postseason debut as the team’s No. 1 netminder.

The biggest reason to argue against Grubauer is his lack of postseason experience, which has generally been a harbinger of a short stay in the playoffs. Since 2006, the first postseason after the implementation of a salary cap, goaltenders making their debut as a starter in the first round have a 108-109 record, with 17 of the 38 goaltenders (45 percent) winning their first-round series. These success stories averaged a .932 save percentage in those games, compared to a below-average .911 save percentage among the losers.

But when you compare Grubauer to Holtby this season, the former’s play should outweigh the latter’s experience. Based on Grubauer’s performance in 2017-18, the chance he would post a .932 save percentage or better in a seven-game series is 42 percent, almost triple Holtby’s chances (15 percent). In other words, Grubauer is much more likely to be the “hot goalie,” largely due to his superior ability to stop the high-danger chances, such as those from the slot and the crease.

Grubauer has faced 29 scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength this season. Roughly 45 percent of those have come from the high-danger areas such as the slot or the crease. Fortunately for the Capitals, his save percentage on these attempts is .910. Holtby has seen more scoring chances overall, but he has seen fewer from the high-danger areas and has stopped fewer as well, posting a save percentage of .858 in those situations, below the league average (.873).

There is a similar trend on the penalty kill, where Grubauer has faced more high-danger chances and been more successful limiting those attempts. According to hockey analytics site Corsica, based on Grubauer’s shot quality faced, we would expect him to have a save percentage of .903, well below his actual save percentage of .925. Holtby, on the other hand, is saving exactly as many shots as we would expect based on where and when they are occurring.

Another way to look at the benefit of starting Grubauer over Holtby is through win threshold, a metric that measures how difficult it is for a goalie to earn a win with his team. The formula is shots against minus goals for divided by shots against, which provides the save percentage at which the team would post a goal differential of zero over the course of the season. If the goalie’s save percentage is above that number, the team is likely to win more than it loses, while anything below the threshold means the team should end up with a sub-. 500 record based on the scoring rates in the shootout era.

Since Feb. 1, Grubauer has made 18 starts with a .933 save percentage compared to a win threshold of .898. Holtby has 15 starts in that span, posting an .882 save percentage against a win threshold only slightly higher than Grubauer’s at .907.

Grubauer is not only the better goaltender right now; he shouldn’t have to stand on his head to get the Capitals through the first round of the playoffs and beyond.

“The hot goalie is a hot goalie,” Alex Ovechkin said. “They can win the game for us. I hope they’re going to play like that in the playoffs, and we’re going to have a chance.”

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