The Stanley Cup Playoffs always seems to bring out the best in certain goaltenders year in and year out.
Each year, a netminder seems to come into his own and prove to everyone that he can take his team to the next level. Think Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Grant Fuhr, Billy Smith, Ed Belfour, Tim Thomas Jonathan Quick, Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, etc.
The netminders mentioned are not only elite (some Hall of Fame) masked men, but they have all had special playoff seasons, and have either won a Cup or come extremely close to it.
The playoffs are a special and crazy time for masked men and this year, it has taken hold of one goaltender in particular.
Washington Capitals’ starting goaltender Braden Holtby has taken his game to a new level in this year’s tournament. He has his team two wins away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Final by knocking out the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers.
In nine games, Holtby is 5-4 with a 1.54 goals against average, a .949 save percentage and one shutout. Holtby has also faced (273) and stopped (259) the most shots.
There are several reasons why Holtby has more than risen to the occasion in this year’s playoffs. For starters, he is playing with control.
When Holtby first came into the league and had his first postseason experience in 2012, he relied on his athletic ability to make saves. He would make saves by doing splits, diving, stretching out to stop the puck — he played like a fish out of water.
While it was somewhat effective in that postseason, it was not the best way to play between the pipes.
Fast forward to this year’s playoffs and that has all changed. His movements are more compact, as he makes sure to stay square to the shooter, not come too far out of his crease and be in position for both first and secondary shots.
By playing this way, Holtby has been able to keep the play in front of him. He knows how to find pucks by being in the right position and he knows how to control his rebounds in traffic, making it easier for his defensemen to do their job.
Holtby is playing with a much different level of confidence. When he first came into the league, he had a lot of confidence, but he often played with too much confidence and thought he could simply rely on his athletic ability to stop the puck.
Now, with the help of well-known goaltending coach Mitch Korn, Holtby is playing a style that allows him to play with control. He stays well within his crease, does not have to stretch himself out to make as many saves as he used to, and more importantly, he is playing a style in which he gives shooters very little net to look at.
Holtby bought into what Korn was selling and it has ended up helping him not only in the regular season (41-20-10 with a 2.22 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and nine shutouts), but in these playoffs as well.
While only time will tell whether or not Holtby can take his team all the way, there is no doubt he is playing like a veteran between the pipes and doing everything his can to get his team closer to the Stanley Cup.