A Tale Of Two Seasons: After Consecutive Vezina Trophy Nominations, Braden Holtby Has Not Been The Same Goalie… At Least During the Regular Season

Washington Times.jpgPhoto: Washington Times

After getting nominated for the Vezina Trophy for the second consecutive season following winning the trophy, which is awarded to the league’s top goalie in the regular season, in 2016-17, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has not been the same goalie since… at least during the regular season. 

After posting a career high in save percentage (.925) and a career low in goals-against average (2.07) two seasons ago, Holtby, 29, did not have the best postseason we have seen from No. 70 in 2017 when he posted a .909 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average.

Holtby’s save percentage dropped from a save percentage of .923 during the previous three regular seasons to a save percentage of around .918 at the beginning of February last season. While he didn’t have a poor regular season up to that point, part of why his save percentage was lower was because the Capitals lost defensemen Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk the previous offseason and replaced them with rookie defensemen Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, who each had no NHL experience entering last season. Holtby faced a lot more shots last season (31.9 – tied for the 13th fewest in NHL) compared to the previous season (27.8 – fourth-fewest in the NHL). It also did not help that the team’s best defensive defenseman, Matt Niskanen, missed 14 games at the beginning of last season.

Holtby really dropped off when he had the worst slump of his NHL career, where he went 1-5-1 with a .851 save percentage from February 11-March 6. Then-Capitals coach Barry Trotz pulled Holtby in the second period of a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on March 6, where Holtby allowed three goals on nine shots. After he was pulled, Holtby went down the hallway with anger and stayed in there for a few minutes before he came back out on the bench.

After the game when Trotz was asked if he would stick with Holtby as his starter, Trotz wasn’t positive about that saying that he could give the net to his backup, Philipp Grubauer, who was the NHL’s best goalie from Thanksgiving to the end of the regular season last year, posting a 15-5-2 record with a save percentage of .937 and a goals-against average of 1.93 in that span, for a little while. Trotz started Grubauer in two of the Capitals biggest games of the year: March 18 at the Philadelphia Flyers, who were third in the division at the time, and April 1 at the Pittsburgh Penguins with the Metro Division crown at stake.

After Grubauer made 36 saves on 37 shots in a 3-1 win in Pittsburgh, it was all but inevitable that he would start the playoffs as the No. 1 goalie. When Trotz announced that Grubauer would be starting, he had a conversation with Holtby, who told him that he’d take the net back if he got the chance to do so.

After Grubauer allowed eight goals in the first five periods of Round 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Holtby replaced him in the third period of Game 2 of the series and never looked back en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Holtby posted 16-7 record with a save percentage of .922 and a goals-against average of 2.16 after getting the net back and was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


After it was clear that Holtby was the No. 1 goalie in Washington again, the Capitals traded Grubauer along with defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche on June 22.

For the first time in four seasons, Holtby would not have a cushion if he went through a rough stretch like he did last season. His backup goaltender would be Pheonix Copley, who entered the season with two games of NHL experience and came off of a season where he went 15-17-6 with a 2.91 goals against average and a .896 save percentage in the AHL. Though, he didn’t have a great defense in front of him and came off of two significant injuries.

So far in his first season without Grubauer since 2014-15, Holtby has posted a 4-3-1 record but has a save percentage of .887 and a goals-against average of 3.60. Though, he posted a shutout in the first game of the season after going through the 2017-18 regular season without a single one.

While he hasn’t been the Holtby that we all know and love, it is important to note that scoring around the league is up at the beginning of the season and the Capitals have allowed an average of 32.1 shots per game, 14th in the NHL this season, and the team has struggled on the penalty kill, where they are 25th in the NHL with an efficiency of 73.8%. Holtby has allowed at least three goals in a game six times already this season.

Despite Holtby’s early season struggles and his tough stretch at the end of the regular season last year, his numbers will likely go up once the team tightens up on defense and the scoring around the league drops back down to normal. For now, we shouldn’t worry. And besides, no one will remember that Holtby struggled at the beginning of the regular season if he follows it up with a strong postseason just like last year.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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40 Responses to A Tale Of Two Seasons: After Consecutive Vezina Trophy Nominations, Braden Holtby Has Not Been The Same Goalie… At Least During the Regular Season

  1. J says:

    Totally disagree with this being a Holtby problem. Yes Holtby save % is 88% and hes gaa is 3.6. But look around the NHL half the league or more have 3 or worse gaa bc nhl strict rule echancements, and shrinking goalie pads leading to up tick in goals. Heres proof.

    J.Quick 4Srts 4.55 gaa
    Korpisalo 5 strts 3.99
    Ward 8 strts 3.92
    Allen 10 strts 3.88
    Smith 10 strts 3.71
    Murray 7 strts 3.45
    Reimer 8strts 3.36
    Anderson 11strts 3.34
    Bob 8 strts 3.24
    Rask 6 starts 3.15
    Elliott 10starts 3.10
    Howard 10 starts 3.06 gaa

    And I left a hand full of backups out like Copley and others who are above 3 gaa. So its a league wide thing. Everyone knows Holtby is a 2.4 or less guy if he gets his normal structure and defense around him. Its just harder on goalies playing firewagon hockey. And hes making 10 bell saves otherwise theyd be blown out early in some of these games

  2. Jon Sorensen says:

    Do your goalie stats go back to January 1st of this year, or do they just cover this season (since October)?

  3. Rick Icely says:

    We’re no strangers to hockey
    You know the rules and so do I
    A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of
    You wouldn’t get this from any other guy
    I just wanna tell you how I’m feeling
    Gotta make you understand
    Holtby’s never gonna give you up
    Holtby’s never gonna let you down
    Holtby’s never gonna run around and desert you

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