Cause for Concern? Is Braden Holtby’s Slow Start a Career Trend, Or An Aberration?

There have been quite a few questions regarding Braden Holtby’s performance through his first five starts this season. Yes, he’s struggled to start to the season, but is this what we can expect from Holtby, based off of his October splits over the past five seasons?  We’ll take a look at Holtby’s first five games over the last five seasons in this post. (thanks for’s statistics) 

Year Record GA SA SV SV% SO
2015-16 4-1-0 10 119 109 .915 0
2016-17 2-2-1 12 134 122 .910 0
2017-18 3-2-0 11 159 148 .930 0
2018-19 3-1-1 16 157 141 .898 1
2019-20 1-2-2 18 117 99 .846 0
Totals 13-8-4 67 686 619 .902 1

At first glance, outside of a very strong start to the 2017-18 season, Holtby’s performance in the first five games of the last five seasons has decreased over time.

One statistical comparison we can take into account is this season compared to the 2015-16 season. That 2015-16 Caps team rolled out to a 4-1-0 record in Holtby’s first five stars, giving up 119 shots against. This year’s Caps team gave up two fewer shots in Holtby’s five starts, and he had ten fewer saves. The three losses on Holtby’s docket were by one goal each (the loss against Colorado was actually attributed to Samsonov, since the Caps scored 3 goals). Statistically speaking, if Holtby comes up with one or two more saves in each of those games, the Caps could have won those games. It’s such a small margin of error for a goaltender.

It’s starting to look more like the start to the 2017-18 season was more of an aberration, compared to the other four years in this analysis. For clarity’s sake, here’s Holtby’s first five games of the 2017-18 season:


Holtby rode very strong performances against Montreal and Toronto, saving 68 of 70 shots faced. Outside of that, he had two near-league average performances against New Jersey and Pittsburgh.

Ultimately, we know how the 2017-18 regular season panned out for Holtby, where he was relegated to a backup role with Philipp Grubauer’s surge in play. He atoned for his performance that season in the playoffs, backstopping the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

We can take a glance at his overall statistics and see a general picture of Holtby’s first five appearances in the regular season, but let’s get a deeper understanding of the types of shots he’s facing, and if they’re high danger chances he’s missing, or if there’s an actual issue here:

2015-16 47 .811 1.00 .778
2016-17 28 .760 1.00 .500
2017-18 39 .800 1.00 .917
2018-19 52 .933 1.00 .750
2019-20 35 .719 1.00 .333

The picture is getting a bit clearer here. The Caps have given up far fewer high danger shots against from Holtby’s first five games last season, and the first five games this season. He’s sporting a .719 save percentage at even strength on high danger shots. This is well under his performance last season, as well as any of his previous seasons in his first five games.

Additionally, his power play save percentage for high danger shots is considerably lower than his career averages, granted he’s only faced three high danger shots against, and two ended up being goals. In all, Holtby has an .686 high danger save percentage. Compared to Ilya Samsonov’s .867 high danger save percentage, there’s a bit of a concern there.

On top of all that, Sean Tierney of Charting Hockey put together this visual on Twitter, showing goals saved above expectation. Among the group of goaltenders playing over 180 minutes, he’s at the bottom of the barrel, meaning he’s saving fewer shots than he’s statistically expected to based on shot quality.

Now, we can make assumptions and observations about how Holtby plays in his first five games, but overall, Holtby’s worst statistical month as a professional is October. Here’s his monthly splits, provided by

holtby splits

There’s a pretty decent sample size here to suggest that Holtby is a slow starter. January and February are definitely not his strongest months, but he’s shown that he elevates his play down the stretch in March and April where regular season games are much more impactful. All in all, it’s still much too early to relegate Holtby to a backup role. Now, that being said, if he continues to struggle, Todd Reirden will have a tough call to make regarding who becomes the starting goalie. Based on Holtby’s past performance, we should see an improvement in his play. The question then becomes: is better than what he’s currently providing still good enough?

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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1 Response to Cause for Concern? Is Braden Holtby’s Slow Start a Career Trend, Or An Aberration?

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