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What has happened to Braden Holtby?
Even though the Caps fell short in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers, as the team left the ice at Madison Square Garden Caps' fans still had to feel optimistic about the future, particularly the goaltending situation.
After all, Braden Holtby had just turned in a spectacular performance over the course of 14 games, many of them as pressure packed as any a rookie goalie could possibly face.
How good was Holtby's playoff performance?
Holtby posted a 1.95 goals against average during the 2012 NHL playoffs (ESPN).
Only Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the 2012 NHL playoffs, and Lundqvist had a better goals against average than Holtby, among goalies who played more than 10 playoff games last year.
Holtby also had a .935 save percentage.
Only Quick and Phoenix's Mike Smith had a better save percentage among goalies playing in more than 10 playoff games.
With numbers like that, it was easy to believe that Braden Holtby would be the answer in net for the Caps for many years to come.
To say that Holtby's 2013 performance, thus far, has been a disappointment would be an understatement. So far, Holtby has been very underwhelming, to say the least.
Against the Lightning (ESPN), on opening night, Holtby surrendered six goals on 34 shots. He had a .824 save percentage. The Caps defense let him down on several occasions, to be sure. But some of the goals scored by Tampa Bay would have had no chance against the Braden Holtby from the 2012 playoffs.
Holtby would get the next start against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets beat the Caps, 4-2 (ESPN). Against the Jets, the Caps gave up 39 shots on goal and Holtby stopped 35 of them. He had a .897 save percentage in that game, so there was some level of improvement.
But, again, some of the goals were quasi-soft. One goal banked in off his skate. Another one just seemed to somehow trickle into the net behind him.
In both games, Holtby's glove side was a target and a weakness.
Holtby took a back seat to Michal Neuvirth for the next five games. He returned to action on Friday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Holtby played quite well and looked like the Holtby of old as the Caps edged the Flyers, 3-2, to capture their second win of the season (ESPN).
Against the Flyers, Holtby stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced for a .935 save percentage. He made some good saves and kept the high powered Flyers off balance for much of the game.
But then came the Super Bowl Sunday battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins and this was probably Holtby's worst outing so far.
Holtby allowed six goals on just 26 shots against for a pretty dreadful .769 save percentage as the Pens crushed the Caps 6-3 at Verizon Center (NHL.com).
A few of the goals Holtby allowed could be considered soft. The goal he gave up to Kris Letang that put Pittsburgh ahead to stay is a save Holtby has to make. There is no other way to sugarcoat it.
So Braden Holtby's record now sits at 1-3 for the season. He has a 4.52 goals against average, which ranks 39th in the NHL. He has a .862 save percentage, which ranks 38th.
To steal some dialogue from ESPN's Stan Verrett and Neil Everett:
"Is that bad?"
"It's not good."
No, it's not good at all.
Compare that to the Caps other goalie, Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth has a 2.97 goals against average (26th in the NHL) and a .899 save percentage (23rd in the NHL). No, those are not all-star caliber numbers either. Still, Neuvirth is outplaying Holtby right now and that is something else that was not supposed to happen.
Is Braden Holtby a flash in the pan? Or is he, like the Caps, just off to a slow start?
Time will answer this burning question. But so far, there are plenty of reasons for Caps fans to be concerned about the play of Braden Holtby.