Braden Holtby had the toughest season of his career, lost his job, stayed positive, worked through it, and hand-delivered his team to the Cup final. Braden Holtby rules. If Braden Holtby is your hero, you picked a good hero.
|1648||shots faced, all strengths|
|153||goals allowed, all strengths|
|.919||5-on-5 expected save percentage|
|.917||5-on-5 save percentage|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the season. A short description of each chart:
So here’s a tweet from three and a half years ago.
"I hope I never reach the top of my game." – Braden Holtby, zen as fuck
— RMNB (@russianmachine) February 4, 2015
Tough break, Braden. You’re there now. And what a weird path you took to get here.
2017-18 was without a doubt the worst regular season of Braden Holtby’s career. After saving an eerily consistent 93 percent of 5-on-5 shots over the previous five seasons, Holtby guttered.
By Christmas, Holtby’s name was miles away from the Vezina conversation. By mid-February, he ceded most starts to Philipp Grubauer. In April, he wasn’t the number-one goalie for the postseason.
But by June he was a Champion anyway. Grubauer struggled in games one and two against Columbus, so Holtby started game three. He was fine, but he was only getting warmed up. Closing out the series, Holtby saved 94 percent of shots during 5-on-5 and 93 percent overall to help the Caps advance. Once Washington beat Columbus and Pittsburgh, Holtby entered a new level. He recorded back-to-back shutouts to eliminate the Cup-favorite Lightning, turning away 53 shots and 20 high-danger chances from the league’s most explosive offensive team to carry the Caps to their first Cup final in two decades.
Those were back-to-back shutouts against a team that averaged seven goals every two hours in the regular season. From a goalie who wasn’t starting much two months earlier. Those shutouts were the first of his entire, blighted season – one in which he received more criticism and disparagement than any previous outing.
Here’s where I have to insist that Holtby got a bum rap. Remember the save percentage table above? Here’s those same seasons, but with the volume and danger of the shots Holtby faced per hour during 5-on-5 play:
2017-18 was the hardest season of Holtby’s career in every metric that he could not control. More shots overall and far more of them in high-danger circumstances that are more likely to become goals. It was a rotten situation to put him in, and his drop-off should not have been a surprise.
No one paid the price for the Caps’ defensive setbacks more than Braden Holtby, but when the Caps absolutely needed a transcendent performance, Holtby delivered one. No, wait, he delivered two.
I know we’ll talk about Ovechkin’s goals and DSP’s clutch play forever, but let’s not overlook the story at the other end of the ice. When everyone counted Holtby out, that was when he reached the peak of his game. He saved this whole damn team.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 11, 2018
Do you think Holtby bears all responsibility for his downturn during the regular season? And exactly how much do you care now that he’s the Champ?
Read more: Japers’ Rink
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk
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