The Capitals play a game style that doesn’t rely on goaltending too much. Washington currently has the third fewest Shot Attempts Against and fifth fewest Unblocked Shot Attempts Against. They’ve done a good job at keeping the opponents around the perimeter without letting them cut into the middle of the zone.
Even with a solid defense, the Capitals have solid goaltending to fall back on if all else fails. Braden Holtby, who is coming off of a record-tying 48 win season, has been playing consistently in net for the first quarter of the regular season, and backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer has been one of the best backups in the league so far.
In the defensive zone, the Capitals have been phenomenal at preventing the puck from getting through to their goaltenders, but with that mentality some problems have surfaced. One big problem that the Capitals need to take care of is allowing their goalies to see the puck as it’s coming through. Blocking shots is great, but it comes with a risk of accidentally screening your own goaltender, or deflecting the puck into your own net. We’ve seen defenders get in the way of Holtby’s or Grubauer’s line of sight, leading to a goal against multiple times this year.
Another issue with the defensive play is the inability to clear the puck after a primary shot attempt against. In the recent home-stand, the Capitals have improved on this part of the game, but overall this season the clearing of the front of their net has room for improvement. The opposing offense knows that they can cycle players to the inside of the zone after getting the preliminary shot attempts, and without effective puck clearing, second attempts have a better chance of becoming goals.
Holtby has a 0.920 save percentage, and averages 2.18 goals-against so far this year. Much of the game that Holtby plays has transferred over from last season, from his routines to his playing style. So far he is on pace for nearly 40 wins this season so far.
One part of Holtby’s game that has improved greatly so far this year is his lateral movement inside the crease. It seems as if he is able to read the cross-ice passes better, and because of that he is able to get himself into position to block the incoming shots against. Holtby has already made plenty of amazing saves so far this year because of his improved movement and play-reading abilities.
Unfortunately, Holtby’s rebound control hasn’t improved from last season. With a lack of ability to clear the front of the net and take the bodies of opponents parked in the center of the zone, teams are often able to capitalize on the fact that Holtby will let rebounds bounce off of him instead of freezing the puck. When short-handed, this has hurt the Caps too much. Out of all of the goaltenders that have played at least five games so far this season, Holtby is 45th out of 52 when it comes to short-handed save percentage. Many of the opponents’ goals have come from second chances that have resulted from a combination of the lack of puck clearing and rebound control.
Braden Holtby remains one of the best even-strength goalies in the league, despite the weaknesses that were just discussed. A goaltender is only as good as the team in front of him, and the Caps’ strengths and weaknesses are projected onto Holtby. His consistent play and calm demeanor make him a reliable man to have in net for Washington.
Out of all of the goalies that have played at least five games this season, Philipp Grubauer currently sits at 8th for save percentage with 0.936.
The 25 year old German goaltender has been playing a much more solid game than he did last season, where he had more losses than wins and a save percentage of 0.918. Grubauer recorded his first NHL shutout in his first appearance this season against the Colorado Avalanche.
Even though it has only been five games, it’s easy to say that every aspect of Grubauer’s game has improved since last season. His eye for the game has gotten better, and he’s much better at reading the plays developing in front of him. Like Holtby, his lateral game has gotten much better, as his movement in his crease has gotten quicker and cleaner.
On the penalty-kill, Grubauer has been phenomenal in net. In his five games, Grubauer has only let in one goal against when the Caps have been short-handed, and out of all goalies with at least five games, his short-handed save percentage is second only to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy with 0.958.
Grubauer celebrated his 25th birthday two nights ago with a win against the Buffalo Sabres. For the first time in his NHL career, his parents attended the game.
Goaltending is not a problem for the Caps this year so far. Both goaltenders have played consistently well, and the Caps defense has stepped up to assist them and haven’t left them out to dry too much this season. As long as the Caps continue to play relatively well in front of their net-minders, the goaltending will continue to succeed.
By Justin Green