Open up your favorite sports app on your phone and look up “Goalie Leaders”. Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is towards the very top in all of the categories. It doesn’t take a genius to know that he’s an elite goaltender who won the Vezina Trophy last season and was nominated as a finalist this season. He likely will lose that honor to the Penguins first playoff victim, Sergei Bobrovsky.
But something Holtby doesn’t excel at is playing the Penguins. The stats back it up and so does his play in these first three games.
Holtby is 191-73-31 so far in his young career as he boasts a 2.31 GAA and a .922 SV%. He also has 32 shutouts. Those are elite numbers for a guy who was the successor to Semyon Varlamov.
But if you watched any of the first three Penguins games, or even as far back as Washington’s first round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, you’ll see that Holtby has been off of his game.
The Maple Leafs did shock the Caps by even winning two games in that series but it was very clear to see something was off about Holtby. He clearly wasn’t himself. He was allowing some soft goals. That’s leaked into this series. The goal that Jake Guentzel scored in game two was one that Holtby would absolutely be kicking himself on.
Here it is:
As you see, Guentzel and Bryan Rust come bearing down a two on one. Holtby wasn’t playing his angle too well and Guentzel fired the puck glove side and beat Holtby. That’s the little things you notice.
Or how about when the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury vacated the net for the Penguins to get a 6th man onto the ice late in game three and the Penguins scored…TWICE. This included PPG Paints Arena being loud in chanting “HOLT-BY! HOLT-BY!” relentlessly. He’s a thin skinned goaltender. He can be rattled and the Penguins are proving he’s not quite invincible.
I did some research on http://www.hockeyreference.com that I had been curious about for a few days.
I looked at how Holtby’s stats against the Penguins compared to that of other team’s around the league that he has played against at least 10 times. 16 teams fit into this category.
Here’s what I found:
Wins- 7 (tied for second lowest)
Goals Allowed- 44 (tied for second highest)
SV%- .914% (tied for second lowest)
GAA- 2.77 (highest)
He’s also got two shutouts against them.
I was not able to compile exact playoff stats for the article. Being the math whiz that I am not, I screwed up the calculations too many times. Instead, just watch him play. You’ll notice it.
Fleury has been the better goalie in this series as Holtby gave up three goals in game where he faced 21 and 14 shots respectively. That’s just awful.
The Penguins are in Holtby’s head and have been for a few seasons now. They have to stay there, though. With Kris Letang and now Sidney Crosby both missing for game four (or until Crosby returns as Letang is done for the year), they will need to stay embedded inside and continue to pound away.