The race for the playoffs is on and already some teams are standing out with extraordinary performances by key players, notably star forward Evgeni Malkin for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the naughty Brad Marchand for the Boston Bruins. But these are just players you expect to go all out in the weeks leading to the postseason, as they are just getting ready to push the envelope even more when playoff time comes around. However, some other players should be getting in that same groove, but one of them is far from it.
A known key for playoff success is your star netminder at the top of his game in between the pipes, and unfortunately for the Washington Capitals, it isn't the case. Star goalie and former Veniza trophy winner Braden Holtby is struggling... to say the least. He is going through one of the most difficult stretches of his career as he was pulled in three of his last eight starts. Furthermore, Holtby is sporting the worst numbers of his career since becoming a full-time starter for the Capitals in 2012, including save percentage (.907), goals against average (3.03), and shutouts (0).
He even admitted to his struggles and why he understands that head coach Barry Trotz is trusting backup Philipp Grubauer with the job.
“I’ve always believed that you need to earn your minutes, earn your time,” Holtby said. “This is one of those times, you know, Phil is playing extremely well right now. He’s giving the team the best chance to win every night.
“It’s one of those fortunate things in an unfortunate situation,” Holtby continued. “He’s been able to play extremely well and I can take a little time and clean up a couple things. Clear my head, clear the team’s head with that kind of stigma that’s kind of going on right now with me being in net. Those things happen and the biggest thing is setting the right example. The young guys, everyone on the team, that we’re all in this together no matter who’s playing. We’re focused on winning games and that’s the bottom line.”
Monday night as the Caps faced off against the Jets, Grubauer made his third-straight start in net, the most since the 2013-14 season.
“He’s earned the right and we’ll re-think every game,” Trotz said. “Right now we’re in a playoff mode where we’ve got to put the people in that we feel meet all the components to win. Right now we need to wins so we’re guaranteed an invitation to the dance.”
According to former NHL goalie and TSN analyst Jamie McLennan, there is a simple reason to Holtby's issues.
"He is over-active in the net. Braden Holtby is one of the best goaltenders on the planet, but he is struggling right now, and a lot of times when you're struggling: you're chasing the puck and you're opening up holes in the body," he explains.
"When he is at his best, he plays a quiet game. Pucks come to him, he is compact and square and readjusts for any type of rebound. That hasn't been the case and that's why the Washington Capitals are running with Philipp Grubauer right now, allowing Braden Holtby to work with a goaltender coach, and get his game back."
Let's hope Holtby gets it back in time for the postseason, or the Caps might once again be left to look other teams make it to the final.