A Tale of Two Goalies

By: Joe Pohoryles

NHL All-Star weekend is upon us, and for the fifth consecutive year, the Capitals will be sending goaltender Braden Holtby as one of the team’s representatives for the Metropolitan Division. Holtby has struggled recently, so hopefully the week off and the stress-free environment of the weekend’s festivities will help bring his mojo back.

The emergence of Calder Trophy candidate Ilya Samsonov in the goalie tandem has some fans calling for the rookie to take on more starts. While Samsonov has certainly earned more playing time, Holtby should not be cast off to the side, or traded at the deadline. I’ve broken down those situations in a separate post, so today I’m going to evaluate the history of the two netminders as we head into the second half of the season.

Oh, but this does not involve Samsonov. The two goalies in question are pre-All-Star Game Braden Holtby and post-All-Star Game Braden Holtby.

Holtby’s GAA Before & After the All-Star Game

Data collected from Hockey Reference. Infographic by Joe Pohoryles.

The All-Star Game itself likely has no affect on Holtby’s play. Perhaps the trends in his play before and after the break are mere coincidence, but it’s still interesting to look at. All-Star Weekend is not an exact halfway point, so the statistics after the break are from a smaller sample size, but both sides are large enough that the differences have significance.

Looking at three major goaltender statistics — Goals Against Average (GAA), Save Percentage (SV%) and Win Percentage — after his first three All-Star Games, his numbers got worse for the rest of the season. This was especially the case in 2018, where his GAA swelled up to 3.35, his save percentage sunk below .900 for the first time during any pre- or post-ASG stretch in his career (.886), and his win percentage plummeted to just above .500.

As a result, Holtby lost his starting job to Philipp Grubauer by the time the playoffs came around, and we know how the rest of the story goes. Ironically enough, his worst All-Star Weekend splits came during the Stanley Cup season.

Holtby’s Save Percentage Before & After the All-Star Game

Data collected from Hockey Reference. Infographic by Joe Pohoryles.

A break in the trend came just last season, where his numbers actually improved after All-Star Weekend. That said, he also entered the 2019 edition with his worst numbers as an All-Star. Regardless, improving your numbers in the tail end of the season entering the playoffs is always a good thing.

Though Holtby enters this weekend with a better win percentage than what he had at this time last year, his GAA and save percentage are slightly worse. In the final game before the break, Holtby allowed four goals against the Islanders (primarily at the fault of the defense, which has been shaky at times this year, and shares a decent chunk of the blame for Holtby’s statistics) before Head Coach Todd Reirden subbed in Samsonov at the second intermission. The Caps scored five third period goals, thanks in part to a second consecutive Alex Ovechkin hat trick, and stole a 6-4 win. Samsonov saved all seven shots that he faced.

Ovechkin presented the team’s hard hat award — given to the player of the game as decided by the player who earned it in the previous win — to Holtby, citing his play for keeping the team in the game through two periods. It was a telling gesture. The team captain named Holtby the player of the game honors even after he got pulled. It was not out of pity; Holtby was not to blame for the initial deficit.

Holtby’s Win Percentage Before & After the All-Star Game

Data collected from Hockey Reference. Infographic by Joe Pohoryles.

What it really means is this team has their veteran, Stanley Cup-winning netminder’s back. At this point, they have seen it all, and so have we. We have now seen Holtby turn things around after the break. Even if this year falls in line with the seasons prior to 2019, and things get worse, we have still seen him come back to reach the highest peak.

It doesn’t matter what these stats say. As I said, the All-Star break’s effect on Holtby’s play could very well be entirely coincidental. What is most important is that the guys who play in front of him will stand behind him for the rest of the way.

And that could be all it takes to get Holtby back to his championship-winning ways.

(Cover Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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