The goaltending has been a hot topic surrounding the Washington Capitals over the last month. In the latest chapter, Braden Holtby shined in Game 3 with some huge saves in the Capitals double overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. During the team’s off day, coach Barry Trotz held a conference call with reporters and had an interesting take on Holtby’s performance and their conversation before the postseason.
You may recall that Trotz decided to go with Philipp Grubauer for the first two games of the series but the decision wasn’t easy. What was also tough was having to tell Braden Holtby, a proven veteran goalie that has won a Vezina Trophy and done a lot for the Capitals, that he won’t be starting. Trotz said in the call that the conversation is between him and Holtby but he still gave a few parameters.
“The things that meant a lot to me in having to tell Braden he wouldn’t be starting is how he handled it. It wasn’t an easy decision because obviously we weighed everything,” said Trotz. “This was a staff and almost organizational decision. We thought about a lot of different angles, looked at numbers, looked at wins, losses, save percentages. We looked at all those things.”
At the time of the decision, Holtby had one of his most trying seasons of his career after he won a Vezina two seasons ago and was a Vezina finalist last season. Holtby gave up a career-high 2.99 goals against average and posted a career-low save percentage of .907.
“I think it was a year of growth. You can’t stay the same all the time. You see it around the league with top goaltenders, they have some of these periods where they have to reset or find themselves a little bit because this league tests you all the time,” said Trotz. “I think it forced him to move forward and rethink some things. I think it’s been a good process for him and made him a more complete goaltender going forward.”
Holtby did much better in the final weeks of the regular season, which made Trotz’s decision as to who starts in goal for Game 1 all the more tougher. Holtby won five of his last six starts and had a .911 save percentage.
“One thing about Braden is that he’s very intelligent in terms of understanding the team dynamics, understanding the ebbs and flows of the season,” added Trotz. “He was a little disappointed but at the same time he was a total pro and our conversation was good.”
There was one big thing that Holtby said in that conversation that showed the mark of the leader and one that Trotz took to heart as the Capitals headed to Columbus down 2-0 in the series:
“The one thing that stands out to me is that he said, ‘If I get a chance to come back in net, I’ll stop the puck. I’m ready if you need me.'”
He indeed stopped the puck. We got a preview of the return of the Holtbeast when he entered Game 2 in the third period and stopped seven of eight shots. That brief performance led to Trotz going with Holtby for Game 3. His effort carried over in that game as he stopped 33-of-35 shots with a .943 save percentage in a whopping 89 minutes of play thanks to the double overtime.
There have been debates leading into the first three games this series as to who would start in goal for the Caps and Trotz was asked if he would stick with Holtby for Game 4 after his strong performance.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” said Trotz.
By Michael Marzzacco