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2015-16 Capitals Season in Review: Braden Holtby

2015-16 Capitals Season in Review: Braden Holtby

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)

Games: 66

Wins: 48

Losses: 9

Overtime losses: 7

Goals-against average: 2.20

Save percentage: .922

Shutouts: 3

Assists: 1

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.”

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Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

When Mike Babcock essentially dismissed any concern over the impact Tom Wilson could have on a series, Wilson responded. In the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017, the Caps' forward scored the overtime winner in Game 1 and saved the series in Game 3 with a sweep of the puck off the goal line followed by a goal of his own soon after.

If you dismissed Wilson after Game 1 and Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Barry Trotz believes you can expect a similar answer this year after how he played in Game 3.

"I think his game was really good and that will maybe give some trust and confidence in him going forward," Trotz said Wednesday on a conference call with the media.

Wilson's impact in the first round against Toronto was immediate. As a top-line winger this season, expectations for him were high heading into the playoffs. His start to the series, however, left a lot to be desired.

Through the first two games, Wilson did not record a single shot on goal. What's worse, he took a critical penalty in each game that allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score on each resulting power play.

You can't compare Wilson's impact on the Caps to that of a player like Alex Ovechkin, but a top-line player has to have some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a detriment to his team.

In Game 3, postseason Tom finally delivered.

Wilson recorded six shots on goal and scored Washington's first goal of the game, deflecting in a shot from Matt Niskanen.

"[Wilson's] taken a lot of criticism for his first two games and some of the penalties and the effect it's had on the game," Trotz said. "I think it's given him some confidence. He's a bright young man, he's a leader, he's an all-in guy."

The key now will be for Wilson to build on that confidence.

Columbus has a number of star players such as Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky. What they do not have, however, is the scoring depth to match the Caps. Getting key contributions from players like Wilson in addition to the top playmakers like Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will make it very hard for the Blue Jackets to keep up.

"[Wilson] had a big effect last year in the first round," Trotz said. "I think he can have a big effect in this series, in this first round."

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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE