The Holtby Shutout

Jason Arnott congratulates Braden Holtby after registering his first NHL shutout

Photo credit: Greg Fiume

I was in attendance the other night when Braden Holtby made NHL history. You see, the Washington Capitals are now the the only team to have three goalies — all 22-years old or younger — to pitch a shutout in the same season. It was electric. The Phone Booth was chanting “Holt-by! Holt-by! Holt-by!” Unfortunately, as the three stars were about to be announced, all I could think was: does he really deserve a star?

Before this gets off on the wrong foot, I realize that a NHL shutout is a great accomplishment. Since the lockout, there have been only 491 of them in regulation, and as I said before, no team has ever seen so many from such young tenders before. I also know Holtby is a talented goalie. After all, we here at RMNB have been referred to as the world’s foremost authority on the young netminder. But let’s put this in a little perspective.

Shutouts are based on three things:

  1. The quality of a goalie.
  2. The quantity of shots against
  3. The quality of shots against.

Holtby is a quality goaltender. Since his second call-up in January he has gone 4-0-1, giving up only 3 goals against and posting an outstanding .977 save percentage.

The quantity of shots he faced against Edmonton, 22, was about average, but the quality of the shots was relatively low — only eight of those 22 were scoring chances. The good news is that not only was that the number I had, but also the number Dennis of MC79 Hockey independently had as well. The bad news is that the Caps have seen more chances against in 16 individual periods of play this season than Holtby saw during the entire game.

Why bring this up? It’s important to keep expectations realistic with young goalies. While Holtby has done well since his most recent call-up, I think it is a tad premature (barring further injuries) to have him in the discussion as a potential starting goalie during the impending playoff run.

  • Rockin’ The Red in VA

    Agreed, a rookie goaltender isn’t always the best option. But if we look at it from the point of Holtby is a very “active” goalie, who enjoys playing the puck and protecting his crease aggressively. Are those traits that could help a team during the playoffs? Just a point for discussion . . .

  • TBoosch

    Just how deep is this team on young talent. Wow, this could be fun for years to come.

  • Not from a technical standpoint, but from my gut, I do think Holtby belongs in the starting goalie discussion (really any of the three is ok by me).

    I see Neuvirth and Varly make incredible, crazy saves, but it’s almost like they’re flopping around the ice. Holtby just seems to calmly turn the puck away AND make crazy, already in the right position saves. Maybe he hasn’t faced as many quality chances, but I’ll pick him on a breakaway anytime. Great composure.

    Plus, other teams don’t know him yet, so haven’t figured out any weaknesses to shoot for.

  • Greg

    You fail to realize he personally pitched a shut out in Tampa (even though Neuvy had let one go by, Holtby certainly didn’t) facing WAY more shots, and a lot of quality shots.

    These two games in a row are way more impressive than you’re letting on with this post.

  • Pattyo

    Who said anything about Holtby starting for us in the playoffs? Neuvy is a proven playoff leader, as i watched him put the bears on his back and win back to back calder cups! Maybe varly can help the bears out this year lol

  • Tim

    Totally agreed. I can see Hotlby being a starter a couple years down the road, but not yet. He has been very good the last two games, but he has yet to prove himself. Let him get another year or two in Hershey – we have two RFA goalies who can take care of things here, and Holtby can come up in case of injury. The Caps are very lucky to have this dilemma – we have 3 young, (probably) NHL-caliber goalies – there can be a pretty significant return for one of them, because one of them will need to be traded eventually.

  • Colin

    I’ve thought for more than a year now that Holtby might very well be the best of the three, eventually, A week or so ago, I commented that Holtby is almost as athletic as Varly, almost as technically sound as Neuvy and way better with moving the puck, plus he brings a certain bite to the crease that can be great if he learns to use it wisely. I think he goes back to Hershey when Varly is healthy again, but I think you take a serious look at him competing for the job with the Caps next year. GMGM may have to seriously think about moving one of the three as early as this summer.

  • Sam

    I’m going to second what Greg said. How many quality shots did Holtby face when all 43-44 saves are taken into account? He also stopped three players in the shootout, and a breakaway on the 9th. Four 1 on 0s. He seems much more impressive when considering the 100 minutes he’s played, rather than the 60. Still, I agree it’s too early to consider starting him in the playoffs. GMGM should hold on to all three for another year before making a move. In a year I think any one of them would be ready to take the number one job.

  • BobbyG

    Another awesome stat. To think it was the Caps goaltending that was so suspect (by some) at the start of the season. They have turned out to be the biggest positive surprises IMO.

    BTW, I don’t know what has happened to this team lately, but they should bottle it and stash it away for the playoffs. For the first time in a very long while, I’m now feeling very good about their chances to go far in the playoffs. Maybe all the adversity they had to deal with and overcome–the 8 game losing streak, the injuries, etc–will pay big dividends in the postseason. At least I hope so.

  • Neil – RMNB

    @TBoosch Have to disagree on the degree of talent “deepness.” The *potential* is certainly high, but we are not close to sure of how talented they are. We would ened about 2,000 even strength shots against to start to get a sense of their true talent level. For instance, we can be 95% sure that Holtby’s “true talent” level lies somewhere between a .891 and .961 save%. .891 is severely below average while .961 would put him among the super-elite. We just don’t know.

    @Greg and his two games in Nov (19 & 22) where he gave up 8 goals on 28 shots against were way UNIMPRESSIVE. It cuts both ways. Which is the “true” Holtby??

    I will say I think the talk of trading one is also VERY premature. These goalies are barely into their RFA years, have significant injury concerns and are still huge question marks in regard to future ability and production. I don’t foresee the org trading any of them for years.

  • missin44

    I agree with everything you say, still regardless the fact that 3 goalies, all under 21 and 3 shutouts speaks for it’s self. I think it speaks well for the Caps future in net.

  • Oakton Messiah

    Neuvy and Varly are over 21, not under.


    Excellent post! Strikes just the right tone of cautious optimism and cautious skepticism.

    I don’t count myself as one of the newly minted Holtby fans you see teeming around commenter boards of late. To say he’s starting goalie material (or should even been considered as such) is, IMHO, unwarranted given what little he’s actually demonstrated to date.

    He’s clearly third string when compared to Neuvy and Varly and only getting call ups based on injuries – and not necessarily on the belief within management that he’s the right guy for the game at hand. At this point, he’s merely the “right guy” when options A and B fail. I dont read that as a vote of confidence in him being a starting goalie.

    Of course, at some point (perhaps next season) he’ll earn that honor – but not now. I think its wise to keep expectations in line here – and not elevate Holtby into something he isn’t (yet).

  • Ian

    @Oakton Messiah – Thank you. I’ve fixed.

  • Evan

    well…….good point but…….Go Holtby Go

  • Rusty

    Consistency. Fresh in everyone’s mind is 105 minutes of hockey, plus three shots in the shootout, during which Holtby has made some dazzling saves and never been dented. The question is whether he’ll pull a Perrault and become subpar when the excitement of moving up to the NHL wears off. We definitely need to see more of him in the crease; the stretch up to the playoffs is a good time to see whether Braden can handle it night after night.

    As far as the playoffs go, it seems you have Varly who is the most talented yet least consistent; Neuvy, who is solid (but only solid, in my opinion, and not much more) yet more consistently solid; and Holtby, the wildcard. Unless Bruce gives Braden some more opportunities to prove himself, I expect to see Neuvy in the crease come playoff time.

  • Devoo8

    I completely agree with this. Especially with the point Edmonton didn’t have high quality shots. Edmonton is ranked pretty low in the leauge so it isn’t the biggest win Caps have. Holtby is gaining respect but to really understand a shut-out the quality of shots really does need to be in perspective.

    I’m glad Holtby shut-out, but keep in mind Caps still have Varly and Neuvy,and the team still hasn’t pick their starting goalie yet.

    I’ve always had faith in Holtby, its funny too see all these bandwagons get on Holtby who earlier in the year doubted him.

    Congrats Holtby,