Perhaps more than anyone but Braden Holtby himself, Olie Kolzig understands the two-year journey the 26-year-old goaltender has taken en route to becoming one of the NHL’s elite netminders.
That is why Kolzig appreciates the fact that Holtby has broken his franchise record of 41 wins, a mark he set during the 1999-2000 season.
“You know what?” said Kolzig, who sent Holtby a congratulatory text Tuesday night following the Caps’ 2-1 overtime win. “Records are meant to be broken and if anybody was going to do it, I’m happy that it was Braden. Obviously, with the relationship he and I have had over the years and the crap he had to go through a couple years ago, it’s great to see a good guy get rewarded.”
About this time three years ago, Holtby and Kolzig decided to abandon the directive of head coach Adam Oates and return to the style that got Holtby into the NHL two years earlier.
“There was a time there (during the 2013-14 season) where he was just unsure of himself, he was confused,” Kolzig said. “And near the end of that season he was back to being Braden.”
Following that season, which ended with Holtby owning a 23-15-4 record and the Capitals missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, Oates was dismissed as coach and Mitch Korn replaced Kolzig as goaltending coach.
Kolzig said Korn has gotten Holtby to play much tighter and faster between the pipes and the results have been impressive. Holtby leads the NHL with 42 wins and ranks seventh in goals-against average (2.22) and tied for eighth in save percentage (.922).
“He has the ability to get from one side of the net in lightning speed,” Kolzig said. “The problem (in the past) was he would get there and there’d be holes in his body. Even though he was there the puck would find its way through.
“Mitch has him getting there with the same type of speed, but getting there as a total package and now players really have to make great shots to beat him. And he still has the ability to scramble and make one of those miraculous saves.”
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, Holtby is seven wins away from breaking Marty Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 wins, set in 2006-07. In that season, Brodeur played in 78 games, while backup Scott Clemensen saw just six games.
This season, Holtby has played in 56 games and is on pace for 50 wins in 66 appearances. Grubauer (8-6-1 with a 2.15 GAA and .925 SP) has played in 18 games and is on pace for 21
“For (Brodeur) to have that kind of a year wasn’t shocking,” Kolzig said of Brodeur’s record-setting season. “But I’m sure if you look at percentages of how much his backup (Clemmensen) played, I would think Grubi has chipped in a little more than Marty’s backup.
“For Braden to do it in a league now where there’s so much parity, if he can get to that mark I think it will be a real big accomplishment. And I think people will then go, ‘Wow!’ because of how good the league is from 1 to 30.”
As for these Capitals, Kolzig said he thinks it’s the “deepest, most talented Caps team that’s ever been put on the ice” and thinks Holtby has made a strong case for team MVP.
“Winning in the NHL, no matter how good a team you have, is not easy,” he said. “Every part has to be working at the same time. It could be argued that Braden could be the MVP of that team. Early on in the season they won a lot more games than they should have based on how Braden played. Now they’re firing on all cylinders.”
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