In his NHL career, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has accumulated an impressive resume, which includes over 200 wins, a Vezina Trophy win and runner-up, and tying the legendary Martin Brodeur’s record for most wins in a single season. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at some of the major milestones reached in his NHL career.
The 2008 NHL Entry Draft took place at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ontario. In the first-round, the goalies picked were Chet Pickard (Nashville Predators) and Tom McCollum (Detroit Red Wings). Pickard never made it to the NHL in his career and McCollum played in three games with just one win. In the second round, Jacob Markstrom (Florida Panthers), Jake Allen (St. Louis Blues), Tyler Beskorowany (Dallas Stars), and Peter Delmas (Colorado Avalanche) were chosen. Markstrom has played over 100 games in the NHL, winning 41, but is no longer with the team that originally drafted him. He has established himself as the starting netminder for the Vancouver Canucks. Allen is currently the starting goalie for the Blues and has won 99 games in his career. Neither Beskorowany nor Delmas made it to the NHL. Goaltenders picked in the third-round included Michael Hutchinson (Boston Bruins), Marco Cousineau (Anaheim), and Jacob De Serres (Philadelphia Flyers). Hutchinson never established himself with the Bruins, but played a few years with the Winnipeg Jets, winning 41 games, but never entrenched himself as a regular and is currently playing in the AHL. Cousineau and De Serres never made it to the NHL.
Early in the fourth round, with the 93rd overall pick, a kid from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan by the name of Braden Holtby was selected by the Capitals. Holtby played junior hockey for the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League (WHL). At the time of the draft, the Capitals prospects getting the most attention were their first-round picks: center Anton Gustafsson and defenseman John Carlson. Gustafsson struggled with injury issues and never made it to the NHL, while Carlson became an integral part of the Caps’ defensive corps less than two years later. After the draft, Holtby returned to the Blades but joined the Hershey Bears in the AHL as a Black Ace. He did not play in any games, but took part in the championship celebration.
For the 2009-2010 season, the plan was for Holtby to play with the Caps’ East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) affiliate, South Carolina Stingrays. The plan for the Bears was to have Michal Neuvirth, their Calder Cup-winning goalie, return, with Jason Bacashihua, a career AHLer, as his backup. The plan for the Caps was to have veteran Jose Theodore, who was in the last year of his contract, and youngster Semyon Varlamov, in goal, and should ever any injuries occur, Neuvirth would be called up to the NHL. But due to injuries throughout the season to Varlamov, Theodore, and Neuvirth, Holtby ended up spending most of the season with Hershey and played in 37 games with the Bears, the most games for any Bears’ goalie that season. He even got to start on Hershey’s Opening Night. Many times, he would play in two games during the same weekend, proving that he had endurance, which foreshadowed his future. He ended the season with a .917 save percentage with the Bears, and started the first three playoff games in Round 1 until Neuvirth returned from an injury. While Neuvirth backstopped the Bears for the remainder of their playoff run, Holtby was on hand for the Calder Cup celebration.
Holtby earned an occasion call-up to the Caps, but he did not play any games for them. He even served as the backup in waiting during part of the Caps’ lengthy winning streak, but the Caps were loath to start any other goalie during that time frame besides Theodore or Neuvirth. Note: Varlamov was recovering from injuries at that time and had been sent to Hershey for rehabilitation starts near the end of that streak. Still, Holtby had greatly exceeded expectations for the season and was now regarded as a legitimate goalie prospect, along with the more heralded prospects, Varlamov and Neuvirth.
The First Win – November 4, 2010
For the 2010-2011 season, the Caps’ plan was for their top goaltending prospects, Neuvirth and Varlamov, to battle for the starter’s gig and Holtby to serve as the Bears’ starting netminder. However, due to a groin injury suffered by Varlamov, Holtby was recalled on October 25, 2010. The suspenseful question for fans and media alike was when Holtby would make his NHL debut. On the morning of November 4, a day prior to a home game against the Boston Bruins, then-Head Coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters that he expected Holtby to play “sooner than later”. A team source declared that Holtby was unlikely to make his debut against Boston or in the next game scheduled after that, the Philadelphia Flyers. However, events played out differently.
As expected, Neuvirth started in goal against the Bruins. The Caps took a commanding 3-0 lead against Boston, scoring three goals during the second period. In response to that deficit, Boston replaced starting goalie Tim Thomas with Tuukka Rask for the third period. The Caps took two penalties early in the period and Boston scored on each of the resulting power plays, closing the gap to 3-2. Boston tied the game midway through the third period, prompting Boudreau to replace Neuvirth with Holtby.
About three minutes after the goalie switch, John Carlson scored to put the Caps ahead again, with assists from Eric Fehr and Boyd Gordon. Alex Ovechkin added an empty net goal with less than a minute to go in the game, securing a 5-3 win, with Holtby saving all four of the shots he faced.
Post-game, Boudreau commented, “I thought Neuvy didn’t look very good on goals two and three. I didn’t know if it was fair to Braden to put his first game in 10 minutes to go against Boston a tied game, but he did outstanding.”
First Start – November 7, 2011
As it turned out, Holtby ended up starting the next game against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 7, a formidable assignment. The previous year, the Flyers had made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Going into this contest, the Flyers had won six games in a row. Philadelphia opened the scoring midway through the first period, but the Caps tied it up before the period was over when Eric Fehr scored. The second period was another period of trading goals, with the Flyers pulling ahead but the Caps tying it up on a power play goal by Alexander Semin. There was no scoring during third period, but near the end of the period, the Caps earned a power play, which carried into overtime. About 30 seconds into the overtime Period, Mike Green scored, with assists from Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble. Holtby made 25 saves out of the 27 shots he faced, improving his record to 2-0-0 on the season.
Career Summary After the First Win
Holtby was sent back down to Hershey in late November once Varlamov recovered from his injury. But, in what became a recurring theme in the early part of his career, the Caps recalled him later that year. He had a brief call-up in late January followed by a later one in early March. He ended up with a 10-2-2 record in 14 games and started 12 of them, with two shutouts. He finished with a save percentage of .934 and a goals-against average of 1.79. He was sent back to Hershey in late March and participated in the playoffs for Hershey. Unfortunately, the Bears were eliminated in the first round that year.
The next season, 2011-2012, was a similar situation. He started the year with the Hershey Bears, while Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth started the season as the Capitals’ goalies. However, he would be called up on a recurring basis, starting in January, because of injury or illness to a Caps goalie. Vokoun struggled with recurring groin issues, especially during March, and Holtby would be called up to replace him on the roster. Vokoun played only once after March 16, and was finished for the year on March 29, when he re-aggravated his groin injury. Meanwhile, on April 5, in a game against the Florida Panthers, Michal Neuvirth fell awkwardly on his knee and had to leave the game, so Holtby came into replace him. With both Vokoun and Neuvirth out of commission, Holtby started the last game of the season, April 7, and became the Capitals’ default number one goalie throughout the playoffs. Holtby helped the the Caps win a seven-game series against the Boston Bruins and lost a seven-game series against the New York Rangers. For the 2011-2012 season, Holtby finished with a 4-2-1 record for the Caps in the regular season, with a save percentage of .922 and a goals-against average of 2.49. In the playoffs, he had a save percentage of .935 and a goals-against average of 1.95.
The 2012-2013 season was marked by the NHL lockout. As a result, Holtby was sent back down to Hershey to start the 2012-2013 season. He returned to the Caps when the NHL resumed action. During the season, he had finished with a 23-12-1 record in 36 games played along with a save percentage of .920 and a goals-against average of .920. Once again, he was the Caps “go-to” goalie for the playoffs, as the Caps lost to the New York Rangers in a seven-game series. After three partial seasons in the NHL, he now had 37 wins, 16 losses, and four overtime losses. The end of the lockout marked his last stint in Hershey and the AHL.
Holtby played the entire 2013-2014 season with the Capitals, although it was a rough year for him as Head Coach Adam Oates, had the “three-headed monster” in goal, as he, Michal Neuvirth, and minor league call-up, Philipp Grubauer, were all on the NHL roster at the same time for the Caps.
Win #50 – December 7, 2013
Holtby earned the 50th win of his career in a home game against the Nashville Predators on December 7, 2013. The final score of that game was a decisive 5-2. The contemporaneous game day accounts made no note of that fact. Rather, the recaps made more note of the fact that the Caps had struck for three early goals. A UPI account noted that Holtby made 34 saves, but did not note that it was his 50th win. While the game may have taken place on the anniversary of the “Day Of Infamy” that took place back in 1941, it was not a day of Infamy for either Holtby or the Caps.
Career Summary Between Win 50 and Win 100
The “three-headed monster” situation in goal continued for the remainder of the 2013-2014 season for the Capitals. The Caps ended their crowded crease by trading Neuvirth to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline for Jaroslav Halak, which merely substituted one goalie for another in the Caps’ goalie carousel. Once the season was over, the Caps fired General Manager George McPhee, and Oates and replaced them with Brian MacLellan as General Manager and Barry Trotz as Head Coach. One of Trotz’ decisions was that the Caps would have a true number one goalie, rather than a goalie tandem. He anointed Holtby as the undisputed number one for the team and the team signed Justin Peters to be his backup. As it turned out, Peters had a very poor season which resulted in Holtby starting the vast majority of the games in 2014-2015.
Win #100 – April 5, 2015
Braden Holtby earned his 100th win in a game against the Detroit Red Wings on April 5, 2015. The Caps won that game 2-1. The Capitals had initially taken a two-goal lead on a power play goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov during the first period and a goal by Mike Green during the second period. But Detroit scored a power play goal during the second period to push the score to 2-1. Less than three minutes after that, the Caps earned two penalties and had to kill a 5-on-3 penalty. During the penalty kill, Holtby split his legs to make a save and watched the puck go between his thighs while the whistle blew. Trainer Greg Smith came to check on him but, fortunately, he was okay. The Caps ended up killing the 5-on-3 situation successfully and maintained their 2-1 lead which held up for the rest of the game. In addition to this game being his 100th career win, it was his 23rd straight start, which set a franchise record. He also was the fastest netminder to reach the century mark in Caps’ history.
In addition to Holtby’s individual milestones, the game also moved the Caps closer to a playoff spot. They clinched that playoff spot later that day when the Ottawa Senators lost in a shootout to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ties Franchise Wins Record For Season — April 8, 2015
On April 8, 2015, the Caps beat the Boston Bruins and won 3-0, which Holtby’s 41st win of the season, tying Olaf Kolzig’s record for wins in a season for the Caps’ franchise which he set back in the 1999-2000 season. It was the third time that Holtby had shutout the Bruins that season. It was the Caps’ fifth win in six games and helped the Caps inch closer to clinching home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The magic number for clinching that spot was reduced to just one.
Breaks Franchise Wins Record For Season – March 15, 2016
On March 15, 2016, Holtby won his 42nd game of the season, which broke the franchise record for wins, which was originally set by Kolzig and tied by Holtby himself only a season ago. In this game, the Caps, playing at home, beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Alex Ovechkin. Due to this win, the Caps clinched a playoff berth for the 2016 postseason and were the first team to clinch a playoff berth. There were still thirteen games left in the season and a chance to tie or even eclipse New Jersey Devils great Martin Brodeur’s NHL record for most wins in a season.
Ties Martin Brodeur’s NHL Wins Record – April 9, 2016
It was April 9, 2016 ,when the Caps played the St/ Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. In this game, the final game of the regular season, the Blues scored first on a goal by Vladimir Tarasenko, but the Caps scored five unanswered goals and beat the Blues 5-1. The game featured a hat trick by Alex Ovechkin as he reached the 50-goal threshold. Holtby won his 48th game of the season, tying the league record, originally set by Brodeur during the 2006-2007 season. That year, Brodeur played in 78 games and posted a 48-23-7 record. Holtby, meanwhile, played in 66 games and was 48-9-7. This game would have been the last game of the season for the Caps, except they had to play a make up game against the Anaheim Ducks, as the originally scheduled game was postponed due to a blizzard.
The 48-win season was a big reason why he was awarded the Vezina Trophy after the season was over.
Win Number 150 – October 15, 2016
Holtby ended the 2015-2016 season with 149 career wins, just one game short of the 150 career wins milestone. He had a chance to win his 15oth game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Opening Nightm but the Caps lost in overtime. The second game of the year came against the New York Islanders on October 15, and was the Capitals’ home opener. In this game, Daniel Winnik scored two goals as the Caps edged the Islanders 2-1. Holtby had 21 saves on 22 shots, reaching the 150-win threshold, becoming the third-youngest goalie to reach that particular milestone.
Win Number 200 – November 10, 2017
More recently, on November 10, 2017, Holtby won the 200th game of his career. The Pittsburgh Penguins came into Capital One Arena to play the Caps, and the Caps outplayed the Penguins to a final score of 4-1. Holtby had 27 saves in the same, including from many shots at point blank range. Besides being Win #200 for Holtby, it was also his fifth win in a row, and was the second-fastest to reach the 200-win milestone, behind only Ken Dryden.
Other Accounts on Win #200
Braden Holtby is Named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week
Braden Holtby Gets 200th Win in 4-1 Victory over Pittsburgh on Friday
Holtby Gunning for 200th NHL Win as Capitals host Penguins on Friday Night
By Diane Doyle