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Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) looks up at the scoreboard during a pause in play against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period of an NHL hockey game at the Verizon Center in Washington, on Sunday, March 13, 2011. The Capitals won 4-3. Holtby, the rookie goalie, has given the Capitals a boost. He replaced an injured Michal Neuvirth after the first period in Tampa Bay on March 7, won that game plus the next three. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin)
Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) looks up at the scoreboard during a pause in play against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period of an NHL hockey game at the Verizon Center in Washington, on Sunday, March 13, 2011. The Capitals won 4-3. Holtby, the rookie goalie, has given the Capitals a boost. He replaced an injured Michal Neuvirth after the first period in Tampa Bay on March 7, won that game plus the next three. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin)

Braden Holtby shines as one of playoffs early stars Add to ...

This was supposed to be the story coming into the Washington Capitals first round series with the Boston Bruins, with Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth unable to play and a rookie taking over in goal.

The Caps had the only starting netminder without even a single playoff win – and they were up against the reigning playoff MVP in Tim Thomas.

Good luck.



<h5 style='border-top: #000 1px solid; border-bottom: #000 1px dotted; font:14px Georgia,serif; font-weight: normal; width: 460px; padding: 5px 0; margin: 20px 0 0'>Playoff wins 2006-11 (Game 1 starters)</h5><iframe src='http://www.theglobeandmail.com/static/test/charts/google/google_iframe_04.html?id=000&type=bar&ssid=0Ar3M_smeSBJsdHNxYkxnbDlrZXI0S1ZoY1pzUGhMeEE&bm=40&lm=155&w=460&h=300' scrolling='no' frameborder='no' width='460' height='300' style='border-bottom: 1px dotted #000; margin: 20px 0 0' ></iframe>


That's not the story anymore.

Even minus their top two netminders to injury, the Caps have somehow gotten the best goaltending of the first round, with Braden Holtby – he of six regular season starts this season – posting an incredible .953 save percentage against the defending champs.

He turned aside 44 of 45 Bruins shots in Thursday's Game 4 to take first star honours and has easily become one of the feel good stories of these playoffs.

It may be only four games, which isn't much of a sample size as far as goalies are concerned, but there's a reason why unnamed goaltenders have often come out of nowhere and shone in the playoffs.

It's an unpredictable position, and who succeeds, in short bursts, can often defy logic.

Holtby fits that bill.

A fourth-round pick in 2008, he is only 22 years old and wasn't expected to make any impact in the NHL this season.

A native of the tiny farm town of Marshall, Sask., (population: 630) Holtby spent three years as the starter for the Saskatoon Blades before jumping into the AHL with the Caps affiliate three years ago.

His father, Greg, was also a goaltender and played two seasons for the Blades in the early 1980s.

In the minors with the Hershey Bears, in split duties, Holtby had strong numbers his first two seasons and tailed off this year, going from a .917 save percentage to .920 and then way down to .906.

One theory out there is he felt he was ready for more NHL action after playing very well in 14 games with the Caps a year ago.

Now he's getting that chance and proving that his 14-4-3 regular season record in Washington isn't a mirage.

The Goalie Guild had Holtby ranked as the fourth best netminding prospect in the league as of last month, so it's not as if he's literally come out of nowhere.

Then there's this great point, from Justin Goldman, that can't be overlooked.

"There’s also something to be said for the trend of goalies playing less than 50 games ultimately winning the Stanley Cup," Goldman wrote before the playoffs started. "This has been well-documented through goalies like Chris Osgood and Cam Ward, and could play a role with Jaroslav Halak, Cory Schneider, Braden Holtby, Scott Clemmensen, Brian Elliott, and any other backup."

Clemmensen, not so much. But Schneider, Holtby and Elliott have been terrific so far in these playoffs.

And Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford mentioned last week that he still believes one of the main reasons Ward was so good in their Cup run was how fresh he was entering the playoffs.

Goldman also makes the case that teams don't have much of a scouting report on goalies like Holtby, who have played mostly at the minor league level. That's something we see over and over in the NHL with unknown netminders, with Vesa Toskala and James Reimer two examples of goalies getting off to very hot starts to their careers.

Goldman believes he is fairly unique, but compares some elements of his style to the Winnipeg Jets' Ondrej Pavelec or Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne.

"I often tell people he plays very loud and proud," Goldman said. "He's explosive, he has quick hands and feet, he's athletic, and he's aggressive. He pushes into shots and makes himself even bigger when he can. With many bigger goalies being taught to play deeper in the crease, he [doesn't]and I think that's a real good sign."

Judging from his play in this series, it may be only a matter of time before Holtby is in the NHL for good.



<h5 style='border-top: #000 1px solid; border-bottom: #000 1px dotted; font:14px Georgia,serif; font-weight: normal; width: 460px; padding: 5px 0; margin: 20px 0 0'>Playoff teams by save percentage</h5><iframe src='http://www.theglobeandmail.com/static/test/charts/google/google_iframe_04.html?id=000&type=bar&ssid=0Ar3M_smeSBJsdDAyRkFFSzFxZzZIYW5TbjhLaExST3c&bm=40&lm=100&w=460&h=300' scrolling='no' frameborder='no' width='460' height='300' style='border-bottom: 1px dotted #000; margin: 20px 0 0' ></iframe>


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