It’s not very often a young goaltender gets to the NHL, hangs around for a while, and takes over the starting gig at the age of 23. In the lockout-shortened NHL season, Braden Holtby started 35/48 games (appearing in 36), or 75-percent of his team’s games. To put into context how infrequent that is, there were only three goalies from 2008-2012 that:
- Were in their first or second year of the NHL
- Under the age of 24
- Appeared in at least 50/82 games, or 61-percent of games
Steve Mason did it twice, Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky were the others. That’s it.
Obviously, the Capitals are high on their young goaltender, much like Columbus and Montréal were with theirs (Bobrovsky was with Philadelphia at the time, and that team is excluded from any conversation involving goaltenders).
How good has Braden Holtby been for Washington since cracking into the league at the age of 21?
There have been 39 goaltenders since the start of the 2010 season to appear in at least 75 games and face 2300 shots. This is the top five:
- Cory Schneider (.931, 2782 shots faced)
- Tim Thomas (.927, 3936 shots faced)
- Tuukka Rask (.927, 3111 shots faced)
- Henrik Lundqvist (.925, 5461 shots faced)
- Braden Holtby (.923, 2378 shots faced)
This is the obligatory reminder that 2378 shots faced really isn’t a lot (look at Lundqvist). Also, it really takes about double that amount to get a more accurate picture of the true talent level of the goaltender.
There’s no doubting how good he has been, though, and when you include his 21 career playoff games, that brings our total to 3042 shots faced and a save percentage of .925.
But we have to look at that in a bit of context. Holtby turned 24 years old a couple of weeks before this season started. In terms of goalie development, he’s still pretty young: There were only three goalies from 2005-2011 to be under the age of 25, have played at least 50 games over their first two seasons and maintained a .910 save percentage: Henrik Lundqvist (2005-2007), Carey Price (2007-2009) and Sergei Bobrovsky (2010-2011). In other words, young goalies just don’t get their team’s starters jobs very often, and when they do, they tend to be excellent goaltenders.
The problem with Holtby, in terms of fantasy hockey, is that is team just isn’t that good.
The Washington Capitals are the 25th ranked team in terms of FenwickClose%, just slightly ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and behind the Calgary Flames. In fact, as a team, the Capitals have allowed the fourth-most unblocked shots at even strength of any team so far this year (25.5/game), or nearly 200 more shots than the New Jersey Devils. We’re barely one-third of the way through the season.
Compounding the problem that they suck at even strength is that they’re mediocre on the penalty kill, coming in at 14th so far this year in penalty kill efficiency. Compounding the problem that they suck at even strength and that they’re mediocre on the penalty kill is that they have given up the sixth-most 4v5 minutes this year, which in turns leads them to give up the fourth-most shots against/60 minutes while short one man. Helping the Caps out through all this is Braden Holtby, who is a big reason Washington’s third-best save percentage while short-handed in the entire NHL (stick-tap to backup Michal Neuvirth as well). Remarkably, the goaltending has limited the damage to 5.5 goals against/60 minutes while shorthanded, right alongside Colorado and Los Angeles.
In other words, Holtby (and a much lesser extent, Neuvirth) are the reasons for Washington’s success.
Why it’s a problem is that Washington is bad enough that Holtby is going to be giving up goals through sheer volume alone. Right now, his SV% is .925 and his GAA is 2.64. There have been exactly zero goalies to do that over the course of a full season from 2010-2013. In fact, the highest GAA paired with a .925 SV% for any goalie over the last three years is 2.21. Goalies on teams that bad typically don’t maintain save percentages that high, or their goals against averages keep rising (or both).
Anyway, it’s a shame because Holtby is pretty good and Washington is not (Ovechkin’s power play goals aren’t doing anything for Holtby’s GAA), so he’ll be able to float them to playoffs but that’s about it.
There are going to be ups and downs with any young goalie – Henrik Lundqvist’s third season resulted in the 18th-best save percentage in the NHL, Carey Price was almost traded four years ago, Pekka Rinne didn’t get the fulltime job until he was 26 years old – but by all accounts, Holtby is pretty good. Don’t let me convince you, though, here’s a decently put-together YouTube clip:
When I look at a goalie, it’s for two things, and for different reasons:
- Are his movements compact? In other words, does he have to make big stretch plays to move around, and how quick is his recovery time? It gives you a good idea of his mechanics.
- Can he stay focused? This is tougher to gauge, and doesn’t apply well to a stats sheet. Tracking the puck, anticipating the play and reading the set up are all part of a goalie’s job, and some are better than others at this. From what I’ve seen from Holtby (and you see it in parts of the highlight reel), he can keep his focus every second of every game and doesn’t get rattled. Ok not literally every second, I don’t know if any player does, but he seems better than most
The Caps found a good one in Holtby, but his fantasy value will suffer because of the composition of the roster in front of him, not because of his individual play.