Braden Holtby turned in another stellar effort on Monday night with 44 saves against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With their win Monday, the Caps moved into first place in the Eastern Conference. Their 44 points is the second most in the NHL, they have not lost consecutive games this season and have won nine of their last 11 games.
All is right with the world...or is it?
The Caps are winning, but they don't seem to be as dominant as they looked at the start of the season. The shots the team is allowing is evidence of that.
In the their first 17 games, the Caps allowed more than 30 shots only once in the loss to San Jose in which Alex Ovechkin was scratched. In the last 12 games, the team has allowed more than 30 shots eight times. In the first 17 games, the Caps were out-shot only three times. In their last 12, they were out-shot six times including the last three-straight.
Sometimes, the amount of shots given up are not an indication of how well a team is playing.
"Every game is different," Holtby said. "A perfect example is back when we played New York (a 5-2 loss on 22 shots on Nov. 3). They had like 13 shots after two periods and six of them were Grade As."
Still, the amount of shots Holtby is facing is a troubling trend for the Caps. In fact, Holtby has faced more than 33 shots in six of his last seven starts.
When asked if the Caps were relying too much on Holtby after Monday's game, head coach Barry Trotz answered, "Yeah, we are."
Not many teams can allow 81 shots in two games and give up only two goals. The Caps are not paying for it at the moment thanks to Holtby.
Holtby is currently riding a 12-game point streak which just shows how absolutely incredible he is. Among goalies who have played 10 games or more, Holtby is fourth in save percentage (.933) and leads the league in GAA (1.87).
To further illustrate the Caps' growing dependence on their netminder, Philipp Grubauer has played twice in the past 12 games and played well. In both of those games, the Caps lost in regulation.
This season has already provided a cautionary tale for teams who rely too much on their start netminder.
The New York Rangers jumped to the top of the standings earlier in the season with 11 wins in a 12-game stretch. New York allowed more than 30 shots six times and were out-shot in seven of those 12 games. Since then, the Rangers have gone 2-6-2 and have dropped to third in the Metropolitan Division.
A Vezina-caliber netminder like Holtby is an asset, but he alone cannot carry a team forever.
Luckily for the Caps, the Ottawa Senators, Wednesday's opponent, rank 26th in the NHL in shots on goal per game. The Senators have also allowed at least 30 shots on goal in seven of their past eight games.
For a hot Capitals team, Wednesday presents a "get right" game of sorts, an opportunity to play aggressive and ease some of the pressure Holtby has faced by dominating possession and preventing opportunities.
If called upon again to carry the team, however, Holtby says he is read.
"Right now I'm just trying to give our team a chance to win. We’re battling as hard as we can to keep piling up points."
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