ARLINGTON, Va. – The Braden Holtby story is one that still has many more words to be written - both literally here and figuratively during the young Capitals goaltender’s career.
But the most recent chapter – one that continues Sunday when he starts in net vs. the Blackhawks – has been quite prolific. Since coming into the March 7 game at Tampa Bay in relief of Michal Neuvirth, Holtby has allowed a grand total of one goal on 84 shots. Despite the small sample size, that’s an unholy .988 save percentage.
“He’s very comfortable in the net and comfortable where his game’s at,” Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz said. “He’s been put in a lot of tough situations here, and he’s come to the challenge and done a great job for us.”
Holtby’s time with the Caps hasn’t always been spectacular. His first call-up in November started well but turned rotten fast and sent him packing up I-83 and back to the Hershey Bears. He said the difference has simply been experience.
“I think I just got a little caught up in the whole spectacle of things in November,” Holtby said. “I was pretty eager, and I thought I was just gonna step in and keep playing the way I was in November.”
Injuries opened the door for Holtby early in the season and again now, with Semyon Varlamov still on the shelf, though the Russian netminder did take shots in practice Saturday. An eye injury to Neuvirth (a piece of metal from his mask flying into his right eye) pressed Holtby into action this time.
“We’re comfortable that if one guy goes down, two guys go down, we got someone who can step in. He’s kinda taken the bull by the horns and done a good job,” forward Boyd Gordon said. “I think we’re pretty fortunate to have three guys you feel pretty confident with every night.”
Confidence is a big word when it comes to goalies – especially young ones – and the defensemen have that in Holtby. He’s earned it, though he fully admits he’s gotten lucky with some bounces and could have allowed a few more goals in this stretch.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said Holtby could make it tough on him to decide on a playoff starter if he keeps playing that way. But the rookie brushed off that notion Saturday.
“I don’t know about that. That’s totally out of my control,” Holtby said. “I just wanna take my opportunity that I have right now in order to play well and prove to them that I can play at this level and help the team out.”
With the other goalies and defenseman Mike Green on the mend, the question now is how long he’ll be helping the Caps out. But that’s a subject for the next chapter.