With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 70 Braden Holtby
Age: 26 (turns 27 on Sept. 16)
Overtime losses: 7
Goals-against average: 2.20
Save percentage: .922
Penalty minutes: 6
Playoff stats: 12 games, 6 wins, 6 losses, 1.72 GAA, .942 save percentage, 2 shutouts, 1 assist
Contract status: Four years remaining on 5-year, $30.5 million contract ($6.1 million cap hit, $7 million salary in 2016-17. Can provide Capitals with 7 teams to which he cannot be traded in final three years of contract).
A little less than a year ago, when the Capitals agreed to a five-year contract extension with goaltender Braden Holtby just 22 hours before what would have been a one-year arbitration ruling, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said, “I think he's just touching the surface of what he could become.”
Looks like that surface has been stripped, sanded and finished with a glistening shine.
Holtby proved his worth with an historic season between the pipes, matching Martin Brodeur’s single-season wins record with 48 victories and being nominated for the Vezina Trophy (top goaltender), along with Ben Bishop and Jonathan Quick, and the Ted Lindsay Award (Most Outstanding Player as voted by NHL players), along with Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn.
Holtby also finished the regular season fifth among goalies in goals-against average (2.20) and eighth in save percentage (.922). His 89 wins over the past two regular seasons are 13 more than any goalie in the NHL (Jonathan Quick, 76, Ben Bishop, 75, Pekka Rinne, 75).
“It’s definitely not a disappointment, especially the regular season,” Holtby said when asked to assess his season as a whole. “In the playoffs there were a lot of places I could have been better, a lot of places we could have been better as a group. I don’t know how much of a positive that will be. I think that will be more one of those negatives you can use to your advantage in the future.”
Actually, Holtby’s playoff GAA and save percentage still rank No. 1 among all goalies with six or more playoff appearances this spring. In fact, his playoff numbers the past two seasons are almost identical -- 1.71 GAA, .944 SP in 13 games last year; 1.72 GAA, .942 SP in 12 games this year.
“He’s the best goaltender in the league,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said on more than one occasion.
Holtby’s personal accomplishments this season seem even more incredible when you consider he matched Brodeur’s wins record in 12 fewer games. His 66 starts were six fewer than last season, dispelling assertions he was worn down before the post-season. Holtby acknowledged tweaking an injury during the Caps’ first-round series against the Flyers but he did not miss a game and said afterward that it was “nothing more than most guys” endured in the post-season.
Going into their second-round series against rookie Matt Murray and the Penguins, the Capitals figured to have a decided edge in goal. But in their six games against each other Murray allowed 14 goals on 199 shots, while Holtby allowed 15 goals on 200 shots. Each of the Penguins’ four wins against the Caps was by one goal, with two coming in overtime.
Several Capitals, including Holtby, said this year’s playoff exit was the hardest of their careers.
“Yeah, it's not like any I've ever experienced before,” Holtby said. “It's just the potential that we had in our group and the belief in what we were trying to accomplish was not like any other team I've been on before. It's tough. Last year, I thought we were pretty proud of where we ended up. This year, we were a lot better and we didn't show it in the time where we had to and that's the disappointing part.
“We grew a lot in the regular season but I don’t think our playoff was good enough -- not even close, actually -- to where we had to be and that’s disappointing because we have all the pieces, we have a great leadership and we’re going to have to learn from this immensely in order to move forward and give ourselves a chance next year.”
Asked what he thought was missing against the Penguins, Holtby noted a lack of production from the bottom two lines, where Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik, Mike Richards and Jason Chimera combined for one goal in the post-season, Chimera’s long-distance misplay by Flyers goalie Steve Mason.
“All year our depth is what made us elite and I thought a couple players were being leaned on a little too much maybe at times,” Holtby said. “We needed to have that 20-man, guys showing up different nights and it just didn’t happen for us. We left a lot out there and that’s tough.”
Holtby said he hopes the Capitals, especially young players like Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, can learn from the pressure situations they were placed in this year.
As for his own future, Holtby said there are aspects of his game he’d like to work on for next season, starting with his play in the World Cup, where he will battle Corey Crawford and Carey Price for the No. 1 job on Team Canada.
“It’s going to be something to figure out in the summer,” Holtby said of his training schedule. “It’s not an ideal situation, obviously, but were gonna do our best to prepare for this season as Capitals. That’s going to always be my focus, being here. So I’m going to use the World Cup to try to get myself ready for the regular season.”