Not every game has to be a shutout for Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, but he approaches each one wanting to first and foremost record a win and then to also not allow more than two goals in the process.
Not every goal against him is the same, and Holtby can live with the ones that he couldn’t do anything to stop. Criticizing him seems blasphemous, as he’s been the best player on a historically good team, is on pace to break Martin Brodeur’s single-season wins record and is a Vezina Trophy favorite.
Though Holtby has continued to win – which is the most important thing to him and the team – his goals-against average and save percentage has started to come back down to Earth.
In the month of December, Holtby posted a 9-0-1 record with one shutout, a 1.69 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage in 11 appearances, named the NHL’s “Second Star” of the month. In his last 10 starts, Holtby is 8-1-1 with a .904 save percentage and a 2.70 goals-against average. He gave up more than two goals in a game twice in December, and he’s done that five times in his last 10 games.
“That’s the way games go,” Holtby said this week. “Earlier, there were some games that went well on the score sheet because we were playing better, and we got a bit more fortunate luck. Things go in cycles. You’ve just got to keep the same mindset, keep working and getting better.”
He said there were two goals he’d want back from the team’s three games on its recent road trip through Nashville, Minnesota and Dallas. He thought a goal by Predators forward Filip Forsberg was his to stop, as was Tyler Seguin’s first goal in Washington’s loss to Dallas. In that game, the Stars scored four second-period goals and Holtby was pulled at intermission.
“The rest are deflections – I think there was three or four in the first two games of the road trip,” Holtby said. “Sometimes, the puck just goes in that way. You’ve got to look at the goals realistically and see what you can do better. … It’s just a time of the season when you’ve just got to regroup and keep focusing on what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on.”
Here’s the Seguin goal that Holtby thought he should have stopped:
— Capitals Goalies (@CapsGoalies) February 14, 2016
“It’s still a great scoring chance, but it’s one that I’ve got to give myself a better chance to stop the puck with,” Holtby said. “Hopefully, every year, you work on something that you’ve been struggling with in the past, and if you’ve worked on it, you don’t want to get scored on that way.”
Holtby has a .925 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average with a 36-6-3 record. He’s lost two games in regulation since Nov. 10, so Capitals Coach Barry Trotz isn’t concerned about his save percentage and goals-against average slightly falling off recently.
“I don’t know if that’s him or us,” Trotz said this week. “I want to put it on us because when we weren’t so sharp, he was very sharp. I just think that we haven’t been as sharp, and I wouldn’t put it on him. When I first saw the goal in Dallas, Seguin’s goal, I thought that one looked a little easy, but then I watched the whole situation. It’s a three-on-one and Seguin sold it pretty good and then throws him. …
“I’m not blaming that one on Holts at all or anything like that. He’s saved our can a few times this year. He’s been pretty sharp, and he’s made some key saves.”