Washington Capitals: 4 Reasons the Caps Can't Trust Braden Holtby in Goal
When we last saw Braden Holtby, he was shaking hands with his conquerors, the New York Rangers, after a hard fought seven-game series. The 22-year-old rookie phenom had come within a goal of leading the Washington Capitals back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.
It did not happen, of course. But that does not diminish the fantastic playoff run that Holtby had in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Holtby outplayed Tim Thomas, matched Henrik Lundqvist save-for-save, and only the eventual Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Quick of the new Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, really stands out to me as someone who played better than Holtby
Without question, Braden Holtby has earned the right to go into the 2012-2013 as the Caps number one goaltender.
I myself am firmly entrenched on the Braden Holtby bandwagon. I believe he is the real deal.
Nevertheless, as is often the case with the Caps, there are signs and warnings in several places that strongly suggest that the Caps would be unwise to place all their trust in Braden Holtby.
I went back and really looked closely at how Holtby played in the playoffs, and I noticed some weaknesses in his game that should cause the Caps a definite level of concern—and give their new coach, along with Olaf Kölzig, something to work on with Holtby in the offseason.
There are also some general observations I have made that further demonstrate that before Caps fans start banking everything on the idea that Braden Holtby will be next year's Jonathan Quick, they may want to reconsider.
Here are four reasons why the Caps can't trust Braden Holtby in goal—at least not completely.
1. Will Holtby Be Able to Balance His Personal and Professional Life?
Once upon a time, I was 22. I remember it quite well.
What I wasn't at 22 was a world class goalie.
Something else—I wasn't was a father.
Braden Holtby is 22, is a world class goalie, and a new father.
That is a lot to lay on anyone, let alone a 22-year-old. That is not a slight to any of the young people out there, it's just a reality of life.
As reported previously by the Washington Post, Braden Holtby's fiancee gave birth to Benjamin Hunter Holtby very recently—on May 10, 2012, in fact.
Being a father takes a lot of time and effort. It occupies much of your thoughts and utilizes a lot of one's energy.
This is something that Braden Holtby will have to deal with in 2012-2013. He will have to balance his professional life as the starting goalie for the Washington Capitals with his personal life as a family man.
There will be growing pains for the young man here, and how he responds to this will go a long way towards determining whether Holtby can be the long term solution in net for the Caps or whether he is just another band-aid for Washington in this area.
In the playoffs, we did not really get much of a chance to see how Holtby would respond to this. He played in only one game after the birth of his son—the Game 7 loss to the Rangers.
In that one game, Holtby played well. In fact, had the rest of the team played as well as Holtby did, who knows how things might have turned out.
Still, it will be an interesting ride this year for Holtby and the Caps, one that will be filled with ups and downs.
Will the unflappable goalie we all saw in the playoffs be just as unshakable when faced with the challenge of fatherhood?
Will the pressures of being the starting goalie for one of the premier franchises in the NHL eventually get to Holtby?
Will just the pressures of life in general, already difficult for most 22-year-old men, but greatly amplified under these circumstances, affect the play of Braden Holtby in 2012-2013?
It is something the Caps will have to watch closely, and something they would be wise to guard against as they head into the new season.
2. Holtby Needs to Get Better at Controlling His Rebounds
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I went back and looked closely at the goals Holtby allowed in the playoffs. I noticed a couple of areas in his game that he needs to improve on before the Caps should trust him completely.
Getting better at controlling his rebounds is one such area.
Take a look at the series against Boston, for instance.
Five of the goals that Holtby gave up in that series were off of rebounds, two of them in Game 3 alone.
In Game 6, with a chance to clinch the series on home ice, Holtby gave up a fat rebound to Andrew Ferrence who put the puck home and gave Boston the lead in a game it would eventually win in overtime, sending the series to a Game 7.
In Game 7, his failure to control a rebound, combined with his failure to get the puck out of his crease, led to Tyler Seguin's game tying goal.
As we all know, the Caps would eventually win that game and that series, but Holtby's trouble with rebounds had to be an area of concern for the Caps.
Against the Rangers, Holtby seemingly addressed some of these issues and he played better.
But the pivotal moment in the series might have been an example of how Holtby needs to get better at controlling rebounds.
In the closing moments of Game 5, Holtby could not control a loose puck in front of his net. It was not a fat rebound. It could barely be classified as a rebound to be honest.
But because Holtby didn't gobble up the loose puck, Brad Richards was able to get the puck under Holtby's glove, bang it in off the post, tie the game with 6.6 seconds remaining and turn the series around entirely.
The best goalies, and the ones in whom their teams can place the most trust, are the ones who minimize costly rebounds and control what is happening in front of them.
Holtby did well in the playoffs but, as has been shown, there is much room for improvement.
Many years ago, an NHL hockey game from EA Sports on the original PlayStation had some canned sound bytes from the announcers. Every so often, when you gave up a goal on a rebound, one of the announcers would mock you by saying, "Like a jilted lover—susceptible on the rebound."
There is a lot of truth to that.
For the Caps to be able to completely trust Braden Holtby, he must not be susceptible on the rebound.
3. Holtby Needs to Improve His Glove Side
In reviewing the video of Holtby's playoff run, an area of bigger concern than rebounds was the number of times Holtby was beaten glove side, particularly glove side, low.
Chris Kelly's overtime goal to win Game 1 of the Bruins series is a prime example of this.
Chris Kreider's game winner in Game 1 of the Rangers series is almost identical.
On both plays, Holtby was beaten glove side, low.
Brad Richards's goal in Game 7 that got the Blue Shirts going? Yep, glove side, low.
OK, we will forgive the Richards goal because Holtby was screened on that one.
As in regards to rebounds, Holtby did get better as the playoffs went on as far as his glove was concerned. Against the Bruins, I counted six of the goals Holtby allowed as going in off of his glove side. A couple of them he actually got his glove on, but the puck went in anyway.
Against the Rangers, he whittled that number down to just three. And some of the saves he made with his glove, particularly against the Rangers, were simply spectacular.
Thus, there is certainly reason to be optimistic that the very young goalie can improve in this area.
Nevertheless, it would have to be considered an area of concern for the Caps and an area in which Holtby will need to improve upon in 2012-2013 if Washington can feel comfortable about trusting Braden Holtby completely.
4. Holtby Is Untested over the Long Run
Without taking anything at all away from the fantastic playoff run he had, the fact of the matter is that Braden Holtby has yet to play a full season in the NHL—let alone a full season as the Capitals' starting goalie.
It is one thing to elevate your game in the playoffs.
It is quite another to maintain a level of excellence through an 82 game grind and then turn things on in the playoffs.
But as the number one goaltender, that is what will be expected of Holtby in 2012-2013.
After his playoff run, expectations will be through the roof.
What happens, though, when he has a bad game? That is not a question of if—bad games happen to even the best of them.
What happens when fatigue sets in, either from playing too many games or from trying to find balance between being a NHL goalie and a new father?
And how will Holtby respond to adversity? Will he accept being forced to take a game off here and there, or will it annoy him?
And what about Michal Neuvirth? Neuvirth is no slouch between the pipes, not at all. Just a year ago, Caps' fans everywhere were declaring him the new man in DC. Signing Tomas Vokoun changed all that. Still, there is no questioning the talent Neuvirth has.
At some time during the 2012-2013 season, Neuvirth, assuming he is still on the team, is going to play better than Holtby. It is almost certainly going to happen.
When fans start making noise about Neuvirth getting more playing time, how will this affect Holtby? During the playoffs, the man seemed to be unfazed by anything and everything that happened to him. But is his psyche really that strong, or was that, perhaps, just a glimpse into part of what makes Braden Holtby tick?
According to his stat card at NHL.com, Braden Holtby has played in all of 21 regular season games, roughly a quarter of a regular season. His record is 14-4-3, so that is very encouraging.
But he has given up 37 goals on 524 shots faced, for a .929 save percentage and a 2.02 goals against average.
Those numbers are a bit off from his .935 save percentage and his 1.95 goals against average in the playoffs.
And, yes, it may be nit-picking, I grant you that.
Nevertheless, as you can see, there are many questions the Washington Capitals should have about Braden Holtby. Whether they do or don't is anyone's guess right now.
How Braden Holtby answers those questions during the 2012-2013 season will go a long way towards answering the really big question—whether or not the Washington Capitals can completely trust Braden Holtby in net.