If you had told anyone that Braden Holtby might be the reason the Washington Capitals didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, there is a good chance they would have laughed hysterically or had you committed. He has simply been that good for the last several seasons.
Missing in Action
Unfortunately, those that are held in high regard eventually fall back to earth with a resounding thud. Last night, Braden Holtby inadvertently put on his Kryptonite underpants, because Superman he was not. Last night, the world discovered that Holtby is in fact human.
For much of the night, Holtby seemed to be backed into his net. A sign that his confidence had faltered as he generally commands his crease from the top of the blue paint aggressively pursuing pucks as they come his way, and playing them at will as they come around his net. This was not the same Holtby that fans had come to rely on, something was just not right.
In fact, Holtby hasn’t been quite right since the playoffs started which was clear in the series against Toronto. It didn’t go unnoticed, but as long as the Caps were winning no one seemed to be overly concerned.
It’s not that Holtby hasn’t made some great stops, it’s just the way he’s been playing. He doesn’t attack from his crease to poke pucks out, and he often looks like he’s hit the 30-second rewind on his remote while everyone else plays around him in real time.
This was clear on the last goal he surrendered to Jake Guentzel in the second before being pulled for Philipp Grubauer. Holtby is letting things get by that ordinarily wouldn’t even cause his heart to flutter. His movements are shallow and everything looks harder than it needs to be after watching Holtby dominate for the better part of two years.
Grubauer had just one previous playoff game under his belt and 24 games on the season ahead of his impromptu appearance. He allowed three goals on the night, but he inherited three from Holtby, so the wheels were already off the cart so to speak with the score at 3-1.
When Going Gets Tough
All the blame can’t fall on Holtby’s shoulders, however, as his team did nothing to help rectify the situation. The frustration caught on like a bad rash as Brooks Orpik took a hooking penalty late in the second before Holtby was yanked.
To make matters worse, Kevin Shattenkirk followed that up with one of the most pointless penalties a team can take, a delay of game early in the third. That one resulted in Phil Kessel‘s power play tally giving the Pens a 4-1 lead.
And finally, the capper on an all around terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the Caps was Tom Wilson getting a two-minute roughing penalty and a 10-minute misconduct for all around dirtbaggery.
While his penalty didn’t end up costing a power play tally, the Capitals were already hemorrhaging all over the ice in front of their home crowd, and the Penguins would pile on two more (including an empty netter) to finish it up with a score of 6-2.
Niklas Backstrom did add a goal early in the third, but the Caps had long since given up. This cart was dragging on the ground, and not one player in red did a thing to stop it. Not Alex Ovechkin, not T.J. Oshie, Not even Mr. Game 7, Justin Williams. All the red jerseys were either inspecting the penalty box or looking prepared to be beamed up or vaporized to escape their home fans wrath.
For a team that is bound and determined to shed their reputation as postseason choke artists, this did not instill confidence. When the going got tough the Caps got frustrated, cheap, and angry, but never once did they get going.
It seems that everytime the Washington Capitals dominate in the regular season they fall spectacularly back down to earth in the postseason. It’s like an instruction manual on how to go from the President’s Trophy to Pitiful in 14 days.
The last chapter is yet to be written, but if the Caps hope to change it, they better get their pencils ready.
Of course, there are still potentially five games to play, but the Capitals are going to need a little more run support for Holtby early so that he can get a handle on his confidence. Provided there is nothing physically wrong with the Capitals netminder, there is no reason that he can’t come out in Pittsburgh on Monday night and put on a show. It certainly won’t be easy in hostile territory, but sometimes the bite of an opposing crowd is just what the doctor ordered.
Holtby is far too good for his last games of the season to go this badly.
Expect him to come out swinging.