To say that Braden Holtby took DC by storm during the Caps' playoff run this past spring would be an enormous understatement.
Holtby was thrust into action on the eve of the playoffs due to injuries sustained by Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. His first task? Outplay the defending Conn Smythe trophy winner, Tim Thomas of the defending champion Boston Bruins.
What happened next could not have been expected by anyone except the most jaded Braden Holtby fans out there. With all of 21 games of regular season NHL experience under his belt, Holtby took the hockey world by storm, beat Thomas and the Bruins in seven thrilling games and then got the Caps to a Game 7 against the Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist, and the top-seeded Rangers.
Along the way, Holtby posted a 1.95 goals against average for the playoffs, good for third overall.
Needless to say, expectations for Holtby for the 2012-2013 season are through the roof. But for everyone out there who is ready to proclaim Holtby as the second coming of Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy, the plain and simple fact remains that Holtby has not been tested over the course of an entire season.
Caps' fans who have been around for the past few years could hardly be blamed for thinking, Wait...haven't I seen this before?
Yes, they have and they should know that a tremendous playoff run might not automatically translate into sustained success during the regular season.
Look at Semyon Varlamov, who had a fantastic run, similar to Holtby's, in getting the Caps all the way to a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2009 playoffs. Varlamov's goals against average was a 2.53, not nearly as impressive as Holtby's numbers last year.
The following regular season, Varlamov only played in 26 regular season games, posted a 15-4-6 record, had a 2.55 goals against average and a .909 save percentage. Those are decent numbers but probably not good enough to win a Stanley Cup.
Varlamov's numbers in the 2009-2010 playoffs were actually better than a year earlier. Unfortunately, Jaroslav Halak played out of his mind and the Caps were dumped in seven games by the Canadiens.
Michal Neuvirth also had a solid playoff run during the 2011 playoffs as he too led the Caps to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Neuvirth had a 2.34 goals against average during that playoff run, which was actually better than Varlamov's numbers during the 2009 playoffs. Many people were saying the same thing about Neuvirth a year earlier that they are saying now about Holtby.
Last season, Neuvirth played in 38 games and was average at best posting a 13-13-5 mark with a 2.82 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.
This is why Braden Holtby is so important for the Caps. Last season, they tried to find a true solution in goal by signing Tomas Vokoun. That did not go so well. Now, the fans in DC are hoping beyond hope that they have found their solution from within and that Braden Holtby will be the Caps version of Thomas, or Lundqvist or Jonathan Quick.
He has all the tools and potential to do so. He just has to go and prove it night in and night out.
If he succeeds, the Caps chances of going very far this season increase substantially.