Braden Holtby doesn’t have the heaviest workload among goaltenders around the NHL. He’s not even in the top 10 in starts.
But Holtby is undoubtedly the man for the Washington Capitals, having started 10 straight games. He’s 7-2-1 with 2.25 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in that time.
Given his consistency since the first two weeks of the season and Michal Neuvirth’s struggles, Holtby could get the nod every game from here on out. The 23-year-old has shown the ability to play whenever he has been asked.
“There was a couple starts obviously that he had to jump in. We’re obviously concerned about wearing him out,” coach Adam Oates said. “He always wants the ball. I haven’t seen him not want the ball yet, which is a great characteristic.”
Saturday’s game at the Florida Panthers and Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning are the final back-to-backs of the season. That should give Holtby plenty of rest.
Oates said recently that, although Holtby won’t admit it, the young goalie could have used a mental break last week. Instead, Holtby started at the Philadelphia Flyers when Neuvirth wasn’t feeling right, keeping the streak alive.
Despite that overtime loss, Holtby didn’t slip. Thursday night’s shootout victory over the New York Islanders was his third in the past six games and including his stopping 35 of 36 shots in regulation and overtime.
“Holts was a stud. He was a stud throughout the game,” forward Brooks Laich said. “They had some great looks where, we saw it from the bench, we thought it was going in and he was able to get a pad across and then came up big in the shootout. Halfway through the game you could tell he was going to be the first star.”
Holtby hasn’t needed to be first-star brilliant this entire stretch. He credits teammates for help along the way.
“We go as a unit. Your goaltender’s only as good as your team, and your team’s only as good as your goaltender,” Holtby said. “It’s never a case of one guy stealing the show. I think if we’re going, we go as a group, and that’s when we win games.”
But if not for Holtby’s strong season (16-11-1), the Caps wouldn’t be in first place in the Southeast Division with 11 games left.
And Holtby has earned the respect of teammates beyond what he has done in games.
“He works real hard in practice and stays out afterward, taking guys’ shots and trying to better himself through all the games,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He battles, he never gives up on plays and that just shows his perseverance and the willingness he has to win. And that rubs off on our team because if we see him make a couple of those huge pad saves in the second, one very, very late in the third, those really lift your team. And the guys want to play for him when he’s playing like that.”
Caps players have had plenty of opportunities to play for Holtby, and they’ll likely get almost a dozen more. Oates said before the season he liked the idea of riding a hot hand in goal, and that’s Holtby.
The Caps’ coach came from the New Jersey Devils, where it was a no-brainer that Martin Brodeur was starting a vast majority of the time. That Holtby has followed a similar path this season shouldn’t be surprising.