Photo: Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images
It’s been no secret that the Washington Capitals have struggled over the past few months, stumbling to a 10-10-0 record over their last 20 games. While the Caps as a team are still slumping, the light at the end of the tunnel of starting goaltender Braden Holtby’s struggles may be drawing near, which would be a huge boost to the Capitals when they right the ship.
After a poor performance against the Philadelphia Flyers, in which Holtby allowed seven goals on 25 shots against, the 2008 fourth-round pick seems to be finding his old self. After another lackluster performance against the New York Islanders in front of Ilya Samsonov, the Capitals’ longtime netminder came on in relief of the rookie backstop and made 12 saves on all 12 shots he faced in 26:05 of ice time. That momentum has carried over in the past three games, although the Caps have gone 1-2-0 in that stretch.
Let’s take a look at Holtby’s performance over the last four games played compared to his performance over the entire 2019-20 season:
There are some big takeaways from this chart. There is an obvious improvement over the past four games compared to Holtby’s overall performance this season, but the most interesting piece of data is that Holtby’s performance has gotten better despite the fact that he’s still receiving a challenging workload. For example, over the entire season, Holtby has faced 28.31 shots against per game compared to 26 shots against on average per game over the last four games. Also, High Danger shots against are relatively similar: 7.61 over the entire season, and 6.75 over the last four games.
One of the metrics above that has the most impact are the Expected Goals Against versus actual Goals Against. Holtby is on the right side of that number over the past four games, mainly due to a considerably higher High Danger Save Percentage. Compare that to his performance over the course of the season, and it’s clear that Holtby is severely under-performing against his Expected Goals Against. In fact, if one looks across at all NHL goaltenders this season, Holtby is fourth-worst in this category, trailing only the Detroit Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard, Minnesota Wild’s Devan Dubnyk, and Florida Panthers’ Sergei Bobrovsky. If one were to do the same exercise for the past four games for all teams in the NHL, Holtby is in the top third of the 61 goaltenders that have had an appearance in their team’s last four games. That’s a marked improvement.
Another thing to keep in context is that while Holtby has under-performed compared to his career performance, the team in front of him has done him no favors. Below is a visual courtesy of Charting Hockey that really exemplifies how difficult of a workload Holtby has faced so far this year:
Holtby’s performance over the last four games have been a bright spot in a pretty dismal stretch for the Capitals recently. On an optimistic note, if the acquisition of Brenden Dillon pays dividends and the Caps right the ship in front of Holtby at his current performance level, the team is in great shape for a stretch run. If the Caps had seen this performance level by Holtby earlier in the season and during their rough stretch in particular, they may have been much better off in their last 20 games.
By Justin Trudel