Vying for the Vezina: Will Braden Holtby Win this Year?

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Last year the NHL saw Carey Price pull off the post-season awards hat trick in winning the Vezina, the Hart, and the Ted Lindsay award.  Price became the first goaltender to win both the Hart and the Vezina since Jose Theodore did so back in 2001-2002, and before that was Dominik Hasek who won back to back in 1996-1997 and 1997-1998.  Lastly before Dominik Hasek, there was Jacques Plante back in 1961-1962 who also pulled off this rare feat.

braden-holtby-washington-capitals-nova-capsWith this in mind, there has been talk that Braden Holtby could be in this rare company with the season he is having.  The numbers on Holtby this season:  a 37-6-3 record with a 2.17 goals against, and a .924 save percentage.  While these stats have Holtby at or near the top, is he a lock for the Hart?  Will he win the Vezina?

Given the way that he has played this year, it would seem he would be the frontrunner for at least the Vezina.  However, Braden may not be the run away favorite Caps fans would hope for.

The Contenders
Who could challenge Holtby for the league’s best goaltender?  Judging by the latest numbers from the NHL, Holtby is in some pretty select company.  While Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks could pose the biggest challenge to Hotlby to win the Vezina, there are a couple other goaltenders that should also be considered for the NHL’s top goaltender.  One doesn’t have to look further than the Blackhawks’ own rival in the St. Louis Blues. Brian Elliott is also posting numbers (leading the league in goals against with 2.06, and .931 save percentage) that deserves some Vezina trophy consideration.  One other goaltender to consider is right in the same division as the Capitals in the New Jersey Devils’ Cory Schneider, who is in the top ten in 3 of the 4 major statistical categories of goaltenders in goals against with 2.06, save percentage of .928, and wins with 25.

Tale of the-tape – Wins 
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Out of these four goalies in Holtby, Crawford, Elliott, and Schneider who has the best chance to win?  If one takes a deeper look at the numbers, Elliott doesn’t quite make the cut.  He has only played in 29 games, with a total of 1,807 minutes played.  This brings the Vezina finalists down to 3 in Crawford, Schneider, and Holtby.

Tale of the-tape – Save Percentage
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Corey Crawford’s numbers read like an award-winning season:  32-14-3 record with 49 games and 2826 minutes played, a 2.21 goals against average, 7 shutouts, and a .929 save percentage.  Crawford has flown under the radar this year, despite these numbers, without even a mention in many Vezina Trophy discussions, or even a nod to the All-Star team, unlike the aforementioned Holtby and Schneider.  While he had a slow start to the season this year, he has continued to get stronger along with his Blackhawks team and has his team poised to defend the Stanley Cup this year.

As Crawford continues to dominate in the Windy City this year, Corey Schneider has many in the NHL standing up and taking notice of the young, upstart New Jersey Devils.  In 50 games this season, Schneider has a 25-19-6 record with 50 games and 2994 minutes played, a 2.06 goals against average, 4 shutouts, and a .928 save percentage.  Schneider should receive strong consideration, as the Devils have been a surprise in this year’s Metropolitan division, and also earned his spot on this year’s All-Star Team.  With Schneider’s work ethic (as he played in 69 games last season and is on pace to play that amount of games or more), and defensive minded teammates, it will be hard to not consider Schneider for the league’s highest honor for goaltenders.

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Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Naturally, no discussion for the Vezina wouldn’t be complete if Braden Holtby wasn’t added to the conversation as well.  This year has been Braden Holtby’s breakout year.  As mentioned before, his numbers this year have been phenomenal.  One has to also remember that Holtby has played in 2 fewer games than Crawford, and 3 fewer than Schneider, and has been able to put up stellar numbers despite the difference in games and minutes (2733) played.

Capitals fans have every right to believe Holtby should win the Vezina this year, a deeper look needs to be taken. Holtby had a mind-boggling 9-0-1 record with a 1.69 goals against average and a .947 save percentage in December.

A Recent Dip for Holtby
While these numbers in December were stellar, the last 10 games haven’t exactly shined for Holtby. The shine has worn off a little as indicated by an 8-1-1 record with a 2.70 goals against, and a .904 save percentage.  Granted, these are decent numbers, they’re not numbers that would win a championship or make a defensive minded team like the Capitals successful.

Holtby’s slight dip in his numbers recently has paved the way for another goaltender that hasn’t been mentioned, and should be considered as well is Detroit’s Petr Mrazek.  Before Sunday’s games, Mrazek has firmly planted himself in the middle of Vezina contention with a 22-11-6 record with a 2.11 goals against (good enough for third best in the league) .927 save percentage (which is sixth, a mere .001 behind the aforementioned Schneider, and .002 behind Crawford, who are 4th and 5th in the league respectively).

Furthermore, what could make Mrazek the upset choice for the Veznia is the fact he faces more shots than Schneider and Holtby every 5 on 5 chance per game.  According to War on Ice, Mrazek faces an average of 28.55 shots, whereas Crawford faces 29.62, Schneider with 26.67, and Holtby with 27.75.

With these kinds of numbers Mrazek has posted, he has been able to unseat Jimmy Howard as the number one goalie in Detroit, and propel himself in the middle of Veznia Trophy discussions.

On the flip side, while these recent numbers may cause one to pass over Holtby and not give him the Veznia, but one cannot overlook the fact that Holtby has only lost twice, twice in regulation all season long.  That’s a pretty amazing feat this far into the season.

As we head into the final 20 something games of the season, it will be interesting to see which goalie is able to stand on their head, make the big save, and carry their respective team to post season glory.  Not only this, but to possibly break away from the pack and firmly supplant themselves as the definitive Veznia trophy winner, and for Caps fans, one can hope this will Braden Holtby.

By Andrea Sobolik

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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