“Well, I’ve taken my fair number of retaliatory penalties this year, so I think more in my mind was not to do anything to put the team down,” Holtby said.
Far be it for Holtby to do anything to put the team down, as the 22-year-old Holtby has shown maturity beyond his age and experience level in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s about shouldering blame instead of passing it off and giving teammates reasons to play better in front of him.
“It means he’s a good kid, he works hard. You want to block shots for a guy like that. You want to go down and block shots for a guy like that,” forward Jason Chimera said. “You want to help him out as much as possible, and that’s what you see in the playoffs. Guys are diving in front of the puck just to help him out, which is a great thing.”
Holtby consciously taps teammates on the pads and thanks them for getting their bodies in the way of pucks blasting at him. He said it’s easy to be motivated when players sacrifice themselves.
And it works both ways. Holtby is the first one to criticize himself after giving up bad goals, assuming responsibility with the poise of a veteran.
“It’s not always his fault,” defenseman Jeff Schultz said. “I guess he puts that much pressure on himself to take the blame. At times, maybe he doesn’t deserve it all. For him to battle through, saying that and putting all that pressure on himself, I think it shows a lot of character on his part.”
Perhaps most importantly, Holtby’s staring on the ice is usually limited to opponents. While some goaltenders scowl at teammates for blunders made in front of them, Holtby said he learned from a young age that the job is to make up for others’ mistakes.
“You can’t be mad if they make them. That’s your job. It’s hard sometimes. Sometimes it looks like you’re looking at your teammates when you’re kind of looking to the heavens,” he said. “It looks bad, but my view on goaltending is you’re there to make up for your teammates’ mistakes, not to bring them down.”
Despite not being around all year, Holtby is part of the group, and guys play hard in front of him because he doesn’t show up teammates.
“It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when goalies stare at a guy or throw their arms up in the air. It’s almost like they think we’re doing it on purpose, you know?” Alzner said with a laugh. “Everybody knows whose fault it is. If it’s my fault, I know it, and if it’s his fault he knows it. I’m not going to go and if a goal gets scored, I’m not going to go stare right at him or throw my arms up at him. I think it’s more of a respect thing.”
Holtby has earned respect around the league during this run. Defenseman Roman Hamrlik called him the one biggest reason why we [are] still in the playoffs,” and coach Dale Hunter said he has a “good head on his shoulders.”
Holtby hasn’t lost back-to-back times in his past 27 NHL games, and with Monday night’s start in Game 5 against the New York Rangers, Holtby passed 13-year veteran Tomas Vokoun for the most playoff games of any goalie on the roster. He passed Michal Neuvirth earlier in the series, and his maturation process is on display for everyone.
“He comes prepared each game to win,” Schultz said. “I think that that helps him out when something does go wrong, that he’s good at moving on past it and ready for the next shift.”