During 13 games in the month of March, the Capitals have used a combination of Braden Holtby, Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth in net. None have stepped up with strong, consistent outings in consecutive starts, leaving Washington and Coach Dale Hunter still waiting to see if a true, go-to netminder will ever emerge this season.
With a 28-save shutout of the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night, 22-year-old Holtby put forth his most compelling bid for the job.
In just his fourth start of the season, Holtby gave the Capitals the stops they needed en route to a 3-0 win at Verizon Center for the third shutout of his NHL career. To be certain, Holtby wasn’t required to make eye-popping saves for the duration of the contest, but he was steadfast when Minnesota challenged him.
“I’m very happy with him,” Hunter said of the Saskatchewan native. “He’s a battler. You see him handle the puck, I think he really helps our D a lot in making decisions. It’s always a risk reward thing when goalies leave their net, but he does it very well.”
One of Holtby’s best series of stops came in the first period with the game still scoreless as he thwarted shots by Dany Heatly, Devin Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu in rapid succession.
“A couple plays that were kind of scrambly like that and I found that I kind of knew where the puck was the whole time, which on some nights you don’t really know on scrums like that,” said Holtby, who downplayed the significance of earning the start in yet another important game.
“I don’t put too much into it,” Holtby said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity. I’m glad I was able to help the team with a win.”
A groin strain has sidelined Vokoun for two separate stretches over the past month, and when the injury flared up most recently it prompted Washington to recall Holtby on March 18. Since then, Holtby has gone 2-0-1 in three starts, allowing four goals on 89 shots for a .955 save percentage and 1.29 goals against average.
Vokoun is expected to be able to play again this week, but it is possible Holtby’s performance may prompt the Capitals to keep all three goaltenders in Washington.
The biggest vote of confidence for Holtby could come on Tuesday, though, if Hunter chooses to go back to him in a showdown with the Buffalo Sabres that is loaded with playoff implications.