The Washington Capitals don’t occupy their current position, tied for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference, simply because of shoddy goaltending. Indeed, Holtby was in net for their recent three-game winning streak that included a shutout, and he played his best game of the season in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers – 38 saves, some worthy of a second look in slow-motion, exactly the kind the Capitals haven’t received enough of this year.
But whatever the reason, they are in this position, and after Thursday’s home game against New Jersey, they will be a third of the way through this truncated season. At some point, they have to beat a contending team, and the Devils are near the top of the East standings. And at some point, their goaltending might have to be the reason they steal one of those games.
“You want your goalie to be your best player,” said Mike Ribeiro.
Yet it is Ribeiro, a center, who has arguably been the Caps’ best player. The result is five wins in 15 games. It’s another in a string of reminders that this isn’t 2010 anymore. Back then, the Caps’ best player on any given night could have been Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Green or even Alexander Semin, and all would have been fine.
But this team is not that team, and the declining production from Ovechkin has been widely discussed for the better part of two years.
So if Ovechkin is never again the Ovechkin who won two MVP awards, the Capitals have to win games in other ways. Or, as Coach Adam Oates said Tuesday, “You have to win every way.” And that would mean that at some point, a goalie has to do more than simply make the saves he’s supposed to make.
“We’re not going to be able to play our best every night,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “Everybody knows that. Those games when your goaltender can steal you a couple points — even if it’s just one — those are helpful down the stretch. . . . We need our goaltenders to make the big saves everybody talks about, the ones you don’t expect them to make.”
So it comes to Holtby, who in nine games has a ghastly .888 save percentage and 3.68 goals against average. Those numbers reflect both the poor play in front of him and the fact that he is just 23, and he entered this season with all of 21 regular season NHL games to his credit. He has, though, two things going for him: The knowledge that he played brilliantly during last year’s playoffs, in which he beat Boston in seven games and then allowed 14 goals to the Rangers in another seven-game series, one that ended with a 2-1 loss. And he has this attitude, both coming into this year and now: