After allowing 11 goals in four games against Pittsburgh, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has allowed only two per game since. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Washington goalie Braden Holtby struggled at the start of the Capitals’ second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, allowing 11 goals on the first 83 shots against for a below-average .867 save percentage, but he appears to be back on track. That’s good news for the Capitals heading into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

By the end of Game 4, Holtby had stopped nine of the 12 even-strength high-danger shots he faced in the series yet was a troubling 19 for 22 on medium-danger shots, those which normally convert at the league average shooting percentage. Overall, based on shot quality — taking into account angle, distance and shot type — we would expect Holtby to give up four to five goals at even strength over the four-game stretch. Instead, he gave up seven. During the regular season, by comparison, his true goals against average at even strength was 1.80, significantly lower than expected (2.49).

It’s a small sample size, but we saw more of the regular-season version of Holtby in the past two games. Holtby allowed two goals in each, stopping four of the five high-danger shots at even strength plus all 25 of the ones classified as medium or low danger. Pittsburgh’s shot quality suggests it should have scored two goals at evens, but Holtby only allowed one.

Expected GAA True GAA
Games 1 to 4 1.71 2.56
Games 5 and 6 1.47 0.65
Even strength only

In other words, Holtby is becoming a difference maker at just the right time.

The turning point for Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, appears to be a clutch save against Penguins forward Nick Bonino in the third period of Game 5. With the score tied, 2-2, Bonino gets a pass in the slot for a wrist shot 18 feet from the cage, a high-danger chance, but Holtby was up to the challenge, and stopped all 12 shots he faced in that period.


But Holtby still has work to do. His overall save percentage is at a career low (.908) and while he does have a .921 save percentage in Game 7s, opponents have been even better, producing a .959 save percentage against the Capitals in these pivotal game.