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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 1 Braden Holtby

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 1 Braden Holtby

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 1 Braden Holtby

A poor postseason had some wondering if it was time for the team to move on from Braden Holtby and turn the starting mantle over to Philipp Grubauer. Here in the rational world, Holtby is still recognized as one of the top netminders in the NHL.

Yes, Holtby did not play well in the playoffs and he will be the first to admit that, but this was the first time Holtby has played poorly in the postseason. Here are some stats for you:

2011-12 playoffs: 14 games played, 1.95 GAA, .935 save percentage
2012-13 playoffs: 7 games played, 2. 22 GAA, .922 save percentage
2014-15 playoffs: 13 games played, 1.71 GAA, .944 save percentage
2015-16 playoffs: 12 games played, 1.72 GAA, .942 save percentage
2016-17 playoffs: 13 games played, 2.47 GAA, .909 save percentage

You can see that the 2017 postseason is very much the outlier. Holtby ranks first among active goalies and second all-time in career playoff save percentage with a .932 and second among active goalies with a playoff GAA of 2.00. Anyone who claims Holtby is not "clutch" or that he falls apart in the playoffs is a prisoner of the moment because that is simply not the case.

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At 27 years old, Holtby is still very much in his prime and has arguably has been the best goalie in the NHL over the past two years. Not only did he win the Vezina Trophy in 2016, but he was the only goalie to finish as a finalist in each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals lost a lot of players in the offseason. Offensively, the team needs to make up the 60 goals they lost with the departures of Marcus Johansson (24), Justin Williams (24) and Daniel Winnik (12). When a team loses a lot on offense in an offseason, they could enter the season looking to be a more defensive team. The problem for Washington is that they currently only have five defensemen and the two remaining spots will go to either rookies like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey or middling veterans like Jyrki Jokipakka and Aaron Ness. They have questions at both ends of the ice and cannot enter the season looking to rely on their offense or defense to be the stronger part of their game.

If Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky are not enough to make up for the offensive gap and Djoos and Bowey are not ready to step in and be fully dependable NHL players just yet, who will be able to keep this Capitals team playing at a level good enough to reach the postseason despite competing in the best division in hockey? The answer is Holtby.

A good goalie can make up for a lot of roster holes and weaknesses. No, I do not believe the Capitals are destined for the collapse some people foresee, nor do I think they remain as one of the frontrunners to win the Metropolitan. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. What is clear is that for the first time in years, this Washington team enters the season with serious question marks. Holtby can make up for some of those weaknesses if he can keep playing at the level we have become accustomed to in recent years allowing the team to see what it has in its prospects and where the roster needs shoring up.

On any given night, the goaltender is the most important position on the ice and the Capitals have one of if not the best goalie in the NHL. Holtby is important to Washington by the nature of his position and becomes the team's most important player because of just how good he is and because it is the one position on the team in which there are no questions heading into the season.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov
— No. 4 T.J. Oshie
— No. 3 Alex Ovechkin
— No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

Madison Bowey’s second game went a lot better than his first and it’s not just because the Caps allowed only two goals as opposed to eight.

Despite being thrust into a significant role in his first taste of NHL experience, Bowey seemed to settle in a bit in his second contest even as it came against the NHL’s best offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Just everything in the first game felt like it happened so quick, I think,” Bowey said Thursday after the team’s practice. “It was obviously nice to come back in Washington and play in the home in front of the home crowd, get a practice in on Monday before the game Tuesday with the team. Just all the little factors that went into it definitely helped and I think it definitely felt a lot smoother out there on the ice.”

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Playing at home definitely has its benefits for the coaching staff as they try to protect the rookie defensemen. Home teams get the chance to change after the visiting team allowing the coaches to pick the matchups they want for Bowey.

More favorable matchups certainly helped him, but Bowey also seemed to play with more confidence and a level of calm that was not there against Philadelphia. For Bowey, the difference was having time to settle in and practice with the team.

“Obviously this team is one of the veteran teams in the league so to be able to practice against top players in the league, it goes a long way,” Bowey said.

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Bowey was called up for a Saturday game in Philadelphia after Matt Niskanen suffered a hand injury Friday in New Jersey. That means he quickly had to join the team and jump into the lineup for his first ever NHL game without any practice with the Caps at all.

Bowey now has two practices and two games under his belt and even a team-building day at FBI training. The effect that has had on his game was noticeable on Tuesday. It should be even more clear on Friday as the team travels to face the Detroit Red Wings.

“I feel myself improving every day,” Bowey said. “It forces you to really work hard and be on your top every day you come to the rink so for me, just having those two practices already have been huge. I feel the development's getting a lot better early.”

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Game 8: Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 8: Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesar's Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with Capitals FaceOff.

How to Watch: Capitals at Red Wings will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals at Red Wings game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

The Capitals (3-3-1) take on the Red Wings (4-3-0) Friday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Little Caesars's Arena.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Capitals FaceOff gets things started at 6:30 p.m. ET followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington Plus following the game for Caps Extra followed by Caps Overtime and Caps in 30 for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:30 p.m. — Capitals @ Red Wings
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps OverTime
 

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

The Capitals-Red Wings game, as well as the pre and postgame shows, 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 LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-RED WINGS GAME?

Here are the projected lines:

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

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches
Nathan Walker, Aaron Ness, Tyler Graovac (injured), Matt Niskanen (LTIR)

CAPITALS-RED WINGS 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.