The 2020 postseason will be unlike any other and, as a result, there are a lot of unknowns. As the July 10 start to training camp approaches, let's look at the biggest unknowns facing the Capitals.
Today's question: How will Braden Holtby perform?
The first question when it comes to goalies is whether or not Holtby should be the No. 1 over Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov has been brilliant in his rookie season, but leading into the pause hit a rough patch in the season. From Feb. 1 to March 12 when the season was paused, Samsonov was 0-4-1 with a .869 save percentage and 4.34 GAA. There will be a full offseason between games before the team finally starts up play again so it will be a clean slate for him...and for Holtby.
Holtby had a rough regular season (.897 save percentage, 3.11 GAA), but he was playing better than Samsonov heading into the pause. Plus, he has a Stanley Cup to his name already and the fifth-best playoff save percentage of all-time. He is the easy choice to start heading into the postseason and Todd Reirden agrees as he said Monday, "Going into it’s Braden Holtby’s job to lose and I feel confident in him."
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While it makes sense to start Holtby going into the playoffs, you can bet he will be on a tight leash. The fact is that his numbers have been in steep decline the last three years and while the defense deserves some of the blame, Holtby just cannot bail the team out as well as he used to. A lengthy pause could prove beneficial for the 30-year-old netminder who will turn 31 in September, but after three years of declining numbers it is hard to believe he will step back onto the ice for this postseason and suddenly be the dominant goalie he once was, especially when you consider he wasn't even able to get on the ice until the team moved into Phase 2 of the NHL's return to play plan on June 11.
While all of this is unprecedented, the fact that there is almost a full offseason to work with means looking at how Holtby has performed at the start of the past few seasons may give us a good indication of what we can expect when the postseason begins. Since I feel the last three years are more representative of where his game is at this point in his career, let's look at how Holtby performed in the first two months of each of the past three seasons:
2017: 13-6-0, .919 save percentage, 2.61 GAA
2018: 17-10-5, 917 save percentage, 2.76 GAA
2019: 13-2-4, .909 save percentage, 2.86 GAA
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In all three seasons, Holtby's save percentage and GAA got worse over the course of the season. The good news is that the Caps only need a solid two to three months from Holtby if they hope to compete for the Cup. If we look at the start of the 2020 postseason as the start of a new season, the Caps should presumably be getting Holtby at the top of his game. Add in the motivation of the playoffs as well as the fact that Holtby is on the last year of his contract and Washington may be in better hands in terms of goaltending than you may think.
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