Round two of the playoffs will rely heavily on goaltending for the Capitals and the Penguins. Pittsburgh will be starting rookie goaltender Matt Murray who set AHL records in the 2014-15 season, and the Capitals will be starting Braden Holtby who recently tied with Brodeur for all-time most regular season wins (48).
Neither goalie is unstoppable, but both have been performing very well as of late, and the fate of round two will be decided by which team has the most complete game surrounding their net-minder.
Game one of the first round went well for the Penguins, as they crushed the New York Rangers 5-2 in a very decisive matchup. Jeff Zatkoff was the starter in net for the Penguins, putting up a 35 save performance and a save percentage of 0.946. For a little bit, it seemed like Zatkoff was going to be the starting goalie for the Penguins for the playoffs in lieu of the injured veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but due to a poor performance in game two, the Penguins staff decided to change it up a bit.
Starting in game three for the Penguins was rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who won the Baz Bastion Memorial Award and the Dudley Garrett Memorial Award for best AHL goalie and best AHL rookie respectively. In his first ever NHL playoff start, he posted a 17 save performance against the Rangers, allowing the Penguins to go up by a win in the series. Murray started again in game four and had an outstanding performance, getting his first career NHL Playoff shutout on a 31 save performance, shutting the Rangers down on six power play opportunities. Game five went to the Penguins as well, with Murray in net saving 38 of 41 shots.
Drafted 82nd overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft, Matt Murray is looking to have a bright future in the NHL. He came strong out of the gates in the AHL, setting a record for most consecutive minutes without a goal (304 minutes 11 seconds), and getting 12 shutouts on 25 wins with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the last regular season. His regular season NHL performance for 2015-16 was no joke either, getting a record of 9-2-1 with a save percentage of 0.930. Currently, Murray has won 10 straight NHL games for the Penguins with his last loss coming on March 1st against the Washington Capitals.
Matt Murray isn’t an unstoppable force, and there are parts of the Capitals’ game that will pose a challenge to the 21-year-old:
– – He has an adjustment period to each game. It seems like he needs time to compose himself and adjust to the pace of the game, so getting opportunities early will hurt him
– – He doesn’t deal with traffic in front of the net too well. This was evident in his games later in the season with the Penguins and in the first round. He loses sight of the puck with a bit of traffic in front, and will give up juicy rebounds. Unfortunately, the Penguins are also good at clearing the front of the net, so the Capitals have to be aggressive.
– – His glove side isn’t as strong or as fast as Holtby’s. The young goaltender is still very clearly adjusting to the pace of the NHL, and shots that are high and fast can beat his glove. This is where the Captials’ power play will shine.
The Washington Capitals will obviously be starting Braden Holtby, who has come off of a record tying regular season with 48 wins. Holtby currently has a 0.968 save percentage in six playoff games for the 2016 NHL Playoffs, and had a save percentage of 0.922 for the regular season. With his sixth regular season for the Caps, he’s looking more and more like a new long-term franchise goalie.
Even though Holtby posted a shutout in two of the six playoff games against the Philadelphia Flyers, there is a big challenge to face in round two. The Flyers were not allowed to get good opportunities, and many of their shots were from far out with no traffic in front of the net. Flyers fans prided themselves in outshooting the Capitals in the first few games, but failed to realize that the quality of shots was not quite up to par. Because of that, Holtby ended up getting cold during some of the games.
That being said, Holtby’s goaltending is no joke either. There were many bouncing puck and lucky opportunities that the Flyers got, especially later in the series which Holbty was able to shut down confidently. His shut-out in game six was evidence of this. He was able to stop all of the close range shots that the Flyers dished out in the third period, allowing the Capitals to advance to the next round of the Playoffs.
The Capitals can improve on their game by helping Braden Holtby out in net by doing the following:
– – Allow Holtby to see the puck more by clearing the front of the net. There were several times that Holtby was completely blinded by a man in front that the Caps couldn’t clear, and even some times when our own guy screened him by trying to block a shot that he would have saved.
– – Clear the front of the net. Holtby will let rebounds fly, and the Penguins are well aware of this. We need to clear the puck from the front so that the Penguins can’t get a second opportunity off of a rebound.
– – Break the puck out cleanly. Turnovers in the defensive zone and the neutral zone leave Holtby out to dry, and the Penguins will capitalize on odd-man breaks.
The Capitals are looking to get to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades, and Holtby will be a main key to getting there, but the other five players on the ice will have to help him out this series. A complete team is what will win the series for the Caps.
By Justin Green