Braden Holtby continues downward slide at wrong time of the season

Chris Lingebach
February 10, 2020 - 7:14 pm
Braden Holtby continues his downward slide

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals are being patient with Braden Holtby, but the championship-caliber goalie isn't make a strong case for himself to remain the starter in net.

All the while, 22-year-old rookie Ilya Samsonov has remained rock-steady all season, giving Capitals coach Todd Reirden more and more cause to ride the hot hand down the home stretch.

"Early on in the season when I said Samsonov, when I told a lot of people, they looked like I had three eyes, because I said Samsonov's ready to be a number one guy in the NHL," Craig Laughlin said during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance, presented by American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning.

"I just think he brings all the type of things you want from a number one goalie," Laughlin said. "His calm demeanor, when you're a player on the bench and your goaltender's calm, there is something that it does to your bench. When you've got a scrambling guy that's diving and out of position, but still making the stop, you don't have the same comfort. I think he brings great comfort and confidence to the team."

In the 10 games prior his bounce-back performance in last Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Kings, Holtby had gone 3-6-0 with a putrid .856 save percentage.

His performance against LA appeared initially to be a get-right game, with Holtby stopping 29 of 32 shots, until his turnstile game against the Flyers on Saturday, in which he let in seven goals on 25 shots –  for a .720 save percentage – and was benched in the 7-2 loss. Now the former comes off as the fluke and the latter closer to the norm.

That marked the seventh time in 11 games Holtby had allowed four or more goals. His Capitals teammates rushed to his defense after the loss, claiming responsibility for a "crappy" defensive performance. Reirden agreed, saying afterwards "it's not his fault."

Even if you concede that loss wasn't on Holtby, it's hard to argue he's trending in the right direction, especially given the aforementioned 10-game sample.

And as Holtby has struggled, Samsonov has remained a rock. With 16 wins in 18 starts, Samsonov has maintained a .923 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average.

For a broader perspective, Goals Saved Above Average represents the number of goals a goalie has prevented – given his save percentage and shots faced – vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of goals. Samsonov's GSAA is 7.92, meaning that many goals prevented as compared to league average. Holtby is sitting on a -16.63 GSAA.

Still, it's fair to question whether the numbers tell the entire story here.

Referencing Samsonov's performance in last week's 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh, Laughlin said, "I thought he would like a couple of those goals back."

"And you're gonna have these spells where goalies go up and down," he said. "On Braden's side, he's a goaltender that has to get his game in order, guys. The last 7-to-10 games have not been good for Braden. We rarely see him allow three or more goals and it's been a constant thing in his byline at the end of each game."

"To me, it's his save percentage that hurts him big time," he said. "You look at some of the goals that, in the past, he was making saves on – that's gotta reverse the other way."

"I think they're gonna give (Holtby) plenty of time to get his game in order," Laughlin concluded.

Related: Laughlin: Samsonov could supplant Holtby as Caps' top goalie