Despite being pulled after Calgary scored three goals in thirteen minutes against the Caps on Saturday, Braden Holtby is playing steadier in net than last season.
Oates didn’t pull Holtby because of his play. He wanted to spark the team. Holtby fumed and jawed at his teammates as he skated off. I’ve yet to hear what he said, but I’m sure he wasn’t complementing his teammates on their pathetic defense.
Holtby, a fiery net minder much like his current coach Olaf Kolzig, doesn’t hesitate to let his teammates know when the way they’re playing is unacceptable. But how does Holtby’s play stack up, regardless of the Caps defensive play? Is Holtby comfortable enough to play solid in net with a shaky defense in front of him? Can he elevate his game to the place successful goalies must go to play effectively in the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals?
Just 24 years old, the 93rd overall draft pick in 2008, has played 67 regular season games and 21 playoff games, starting in 2010-2011. His best performance came during the Dale Hunter era playoffs when the Caps played really tight defense. Holtby’s .935 save percentage put him in the top 5 among all goaltenders playing in the playoffs that year. Playing goal in front of Dale Hunter’s ‘defense first’ team, however, is easier than playing in front of Adam Oates’s pressuring offensive style.
Holtby started out terribly when he first started playing under Adam Oates, during the strike shortened season. He improved, as the Caps improved, and the team began to grasp Oates’s system.
The team also played better defense for Oates last season versus this season. They ended up +8, good for 10th in the league, and with a 2.71 GAA. This season the Caps are -5 with a 3.18 GAA, putting them 26th in the league. Holtby has a harder task this season and, yet, his confidence as a goalie is growing as described in the Washington Post today. Sometimes though, his confidence makes him play a little too loose and he gets burned. When he gets too confident, Holtby seems to forget that the defense in front of him is not that good and he needs to play on his toes all the time.
Playoff games won will be the barometer of whether or not Holtby is a Stanley Cup contending goalie. Of course, the Caps have to give Holtby the opportunity to play in the playoffs and make it to the finals.
I wish the rest of the Caps played with as much fire as Holtby and Alex Ovechkin play with on most nights. They’d be unstoppable.
Let’s go Caps!