Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, is once again the most dominant goaltender in the NHL.
Need some proof? Consider:
- He’s 6-0 in his last seven starts.
- He’s posted THREE shutouts in his last FIVE starts, and five shutouts in his last 14 starts. Overall, he’s now got six of them, which leads the league.
- Since Dec. 23—a span of 10 starts—he's tops in just about every meaningful category for a goaltender, including wins (7), save percentage (9.52) and goals against average (1.28).
Friday’s masterpiece—a 6-0 blanking of the Blackhawks—was the latest example of Holtby's recent excellence. Facing the Western Conference's best team, he stopped all 24 shots he faced from Patrick Kane and Co., including a handful of critical chances early in the second period as the ‘Hawks, already down 3-0, attempted to mount a comeback.
“He was great,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He got a couple of a really good saves early in the second. You knew they were going to have a push. I’ve coached against the Blackhawks a lot, and I look at the core group and it’s a fantastic core group, a proud group. I got to know some of them at the World Cup. I knew they were going to come and have a real good push.”
Indeed, Holtby made a number of key saves in the opening minutes of the middle frame. Among them was a point-blank stop on Artem Anisimov, who has a Blackhawks-best 18 goals. Holtby managed to smother the rebound and get a whistle just as Artemi Panarin arrived on the scene.
A few minutes later, Holtby was involved in another key moment. The Blackhawks thought they had pulled to within 3-1 on a goal by Vinnie Hinostroza, who capitalized on a fortuitous bounce off of Justin Williams’ skate. Holtby, however, immediately protested, claiming he was interfered with by Marian Hossa. Trotz challenged the goal and the officials, after a video review, agreed.
“When he came across he caught the end of my stick which stopped my ability to get my blocker over there,” Holtby explained. “A play like that, I wasn’t really sure what the call was going to be, whether he thought I had a chance to stop the puck or not. It was interference, but whether it had anything to do with the goal, I didn’t know. It was nice to get a call to go our way.”
Added Trotz: “I thought Holts was really good. You could see that they were gaining momentum. Our video coaches did a really good job on the coach’s challenge. I thought it was a pretty key point. We kept off them board, then we take a penalty, we kill that off and then we come out and Tom Wilson scores that goal. To me, that was huge in terms of momentum.”
After enduring some un-Holtby-like inconsistencies earlier this season, he's slowly but surely returned to elite status. That ascension, though, really began to accelerate six games ago, after he was pulled against Toronto.
It was the first time all season the 27-year-old had been yanked. And, as he has repeatedly acknowledged, it forced him to take stock of his game and tweak a few areas that needed attention.
“We’ve worked on a few things that I wanted to get better at,” he said after the Chicago game. “We’ve been playing pretty well during that stretch, too. And we’ve got a bit of luck here and there with a couple of posts and such. There’s still things to work on, but our game and my game are going in the right direction.”
“I was kind of feeling a little off in certain areas before” getting pulled, Holtby added. “And that was just the tipping point, I guess, and I figured out a way in practice to fix it.”
And fix it he did.
After Friday’s games, Holtby now ranks first in shutouts (6), second in goals against average (1.85) and third in both save percentage (.933) and wins (21).
Just few weeks ago, he wasn’t even in the Vezina conversation. Now you can’t have that discussion without mentioning him in the same breath as Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky and Tuukka Rask.
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