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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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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are overcoming all obstacles, even the loss of Oshie

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are overcoming all obstacles, even the loss of Oshie

If you were to make a list of the players the Capitals could not afford to lose, chances are T.J. Oshie would be near the top of that list. Unfortunately, the Caps’ winger has missed the last six games due to an upper-body injury he suffered from a hit to the head by Joe Thornton.

Yet, even with Oshie out of the lineup the past six games, Washington has managed a 5-1-0 record.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oshie is the undisputed energy leader of the Caps. He was considered so important, in fact, that a team with significant salary cap constraints still elected to re-sign him in the offseason to an eight-year, $46 million deal that carries a $5.75 million cap hit.

Oshie’s injury, however, has not cooled off the red-hot Caps who have now won 11 of their last 14 games. It is still clear the team is missing him—their 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders in which the Caps lacked any energy at all is evidence of that—but the way the team has been able to rally without him is impressive.

If Washington can win five out of six without Oshie, how much better will they be once he gets back into the lineup?

The Caps keep winning and that means they keep climbing in the NHL Power Rankings. See how high they climb in this week’s rankings here.

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Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

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Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

What is the one knock on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game?

You know what it is. Everybody say it with me now: He needs to shoot the puck more.

It’s no secret what fans want the talented Russian forward to do.

They yell it from the stands of Capital One Arena or when they watching the TV braodcast at home.

Heck, Barry Trotz has talked about it to the media before.

That’s what made Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks so refreshing.

With Washington down 2-1 in the third, Jakub Vrana found Kuznetsov in the slot and he buried it into the net behind Ducks goalie John Gibson. He even had Tom Wilson on the back door to pass to, but he chose instead to shoot the puck. That shows that he…wait, what’s that?

“I think Kuzy was, on his goal, I think he was trying to make one more pass,” Trotz said after the game.

No way. This is just the head coach being tongue-in-cheek, right?

Watch the replay and see for yourself:

RELATED: 5 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE DUCKS

Oh. Yeah, that was definitely a pass.

Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano reaches in to try and get his stick in the way of the shot and the puck deflects off his stick and into the net. If you watch, however, the puck was never intended to go on net. Instead, Kuznetsov was trying to get it to Wilson on the back door.

CAPS EXTRA PODCAST: GAME 34 VS. DUCKS

At this moment, Kuznetsov still has the puck on his stick, but the blade of the stick is not facing the goal. It is facing Wilson.

The fact that he has not yet released the puck at this point means he’s not aiming for the goal.

While aiming at Wilson, Cogliano’s stick gets in the way and deflects it on net.

Could Kuznetsov have gotten that puck to Wilson? Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is in the passing lane, but if anyone could thread that needle, it’s Kuznetsov. The point , however, is that passing here is the wrong decision.

Kuznetsov has the opportunity to shoot from a high-danger area. Wilson would have had a layup if Kuznetsov had gotten him the puck, but trying to pass through Bieksa is a much more difficult play. If you already have the puck in a high-danger area with an opportunity to shoot, you need to take that opportunity.

The bad news is Kuznetsov was trying to pass up a scoring chance for a more difficult play to set up a teammate. The good news is that it didn't matter. Cogliano’s effort to try to defend the shot ended up putting the puck into the back of the net thus saving Kuznetsov from making the wrong decision.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but there’s still a lesson here for Kuznetsov on why shooting the puck is the better option.