Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is having a solid season, one that earned him his third straight all-star nod. The 28-year-old netminder is 24-9-0 in 33 games this season, placing him second in the league in wins. That win rate puts him on a 44-win pace which, if attained, would give him four 40-win seasons; only Martin Brodeur (eight) has more in the modern era.
To be fair, the Capitals make it easy for Holtby to win games. This season, Washington has provided Holtby with 3.3 goals per 60 minutes in support — only Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning (3.5) and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets (3.5) get more goal support from their offense this season (minimum 1,500 minutes played). In addition, Holtby is enjoying the most even-strength goal support he has ever received from the team since Barry Trotz took over behind the bench.
The goal support is so high it compensates for the deluge of scoring chances Holtby endures night after night. This season, Washington’s defense allows 33 scoring chances per 60 minutes with Holtby in net, the third most among netminders playing at least 1,500 minutes in 2017-18. Almost 13 of those (38 percent) are from the high-danger areas such as the slot and the crease, the fourth-highest among this group.
At even strength, the 33 scoring chances per 60 minutes is the most Holtby has faced since 2014-15. When on the penalty kill he faces 61 scoring chances per 60 minutes, also the highest over the past four seasons.
This helps explain why his win rate is so high despite having a slightly above-average .917 save percentage, one of the lowest marks of his career.
Another way to look at it is via a metric called win threshold, which measures how difficult it is for a goalie to earn a win with his team. The formula is simply shots against minus goals for divided by shots against, which provides the save percentage at which the team would post a goal differential of zero over the course of the season. If the goalie’s save percentage is above that number, the team is likely to win more than it loses, while anything below the threshold means that the team should end up with a sub-.500 record based on the scoring rates in the shootout era.
When Holtby is in net, the Capitals score 3.3 goals per 60 minutes while allowing 32 shots against per 60 this season. That gives him a win threshold of .898 — the fourth-lowest mark among netminders with at least 1,500 minutes played this season, meaning he has had the fourth-easiest time winning games. Holtby’s win threshold the year he won the Vezina Trophy, by comparison, was .894. Last season it was .886. So in the past, he has had it even easier.
This is also why Holtby’s record looks so much better than that of his backup, Philipp Grubauer, despite them having almost identical save percentages and shot volume against. But because Grubauer gets just 2.2 goals per 60 minutes in support, his win threshold is a whopping .931 this season. Only Antti Raanta (Arizona Coyotes), Roberto Luongo (Florida Panthers) and Robin Lehner (Buffalo Sabres) have a more difficult time compiling wins.
|2017-18||Record||Goal support||Shots against||Scoring chances against||High-danger chances against||Save percentage||Win Threshold|
Given this context, it is debatable whether Holtby was truly worthy of his third all-star selection. He has saved just four shots more than an average goaltender this season, and his expected save percentage after adjusting for shot quality (.912) is only slightly lower than his actual save percentage (.917), indicating he isn’t doing anything extraordinary this season. His differential ranked in the top 10 the last two years and this year it ranks 14th, illustrating further that he is off his Vezina form.
Lucky for him, Washington’s offense is helping pick up the slack.