Caps starting goaltender Braden Holtby left practice early on Tuesday after colliding with a teammate, setting off widespread internet panic. Barry Trotz later said Holtby, who had been seen favoring his left leg, was fine.
We got further confirmation of this fact from CSN Mid-Atlantic when they published video of Holtby. Holtby had no noticeable limp when walking away from the catering table. He looked perfectly fine.
But discussion of Holtby’s possible injury missed the real point: what was Holtby eating?
Monday night, the Philadelphia Flyers will play their first game at Wells Fargo Center since their owner and founder Ed Snider died last week at the age of 83. Snider was not a moneyman who remained distant from the team he owned. He knew his players personally, he was outspoken, and he was a legend in Philadelphia sports.
Before Game Three, Snider will be honored with a tribute video while fans will be lit up with orange wristbands. His initials are painted behind both nets. Snider was a man who touched many Flyers players and fans deeply, including some who now play for the Washington Capitals. Home ice advantage can be overstated. The opening minutes of Game Three, however, promise to emotional and deafening.
“The last week was a little tough,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Monday’s morning skate. “I think it was tough on a lot of people, and that includes the organization, everybody that was ever involved with the Flyers. I think ex-players that have a relationship with Mr. Snider, I think it’s going to be pretty emotional.”
But, Giroux added, “We’re here to win a hockey game.”
The Capitals penalty kill was the second-best unit in the league during the regular season, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. Yet on special teams, it was overshadowed by the power play, which finished fifth. While the PK doesn’t provide between-the-legs passes or booming one-timers, it has kept the Capitals in control of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington’s penalty kill is a perfect eight for eight. Going back to the last five games of the regular season, the opponents’ power plays have been stopped 21 times in a row. Despite outshooting the Capitals 61-54 overall in the first two games, the Flyers have scored just one goal. Washington has six, including three power-play goals, good for a 2-0 series lead.
“We got our butts on the line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s Game Two loss.
Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is stopping pucks this postseason at a rate of 98.4 percent. On the other side of the ice, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Masonis saving just 88.9 percent of shots on net. In Game Two of the first round on Saturday, Holtby turned aside all but one of Philly’s 42 shots. Despite the Capitals getting heavily outplayed at even-strength, they won 4-1.
Steve Mason knew the questions were coming. He did not hide from them. For him, the only way out of one of the most embarrassing moments of his life was through it.
“I messed up,” Mason told reporters after a 4-1 loss in Game Two of the first round against the Washington Capitals.
Less than two and a half minutes into the second period, Mason allowed a rolling ground ball to pass through his legs. Mason had made an impressive save a minute earlier, possibly tweaking a muscle, but he denied that played any part in what happened next: a puck deflected by Jason Chimera at the redline that slid into the back of the net with Mason frozen in place.
This season, the Washington Capitals blocked just under 1,000 shots in 82 regular-season games. That averages out to about a dozen a game. In Game One of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, the Caps got in the way of 23 shots. The usual suspects of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner did much of the work. But so did skill players like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“Not even pain,” Kuznetsov said when a reporter asked him about a key shot he absorbed. ”I fake it.”
This is not Braden Holtby, but he is also a goalie, and he also plays guitar, so it kinda works.
Braden Holtby saved every one of the 19 shots that came his way on Thursday night on the way to his third career playoff shutout. The secret behind that performance: the mellow jams he shredded on his acoustic before the game.
The Caps don’t have as large of an edge in goaltending in this series as people might think. This isn’t a knock on Braden Holtby but more so an acknowledgement that Steve Mason is a better goalie than he’s been given credit for.
Mason burst onto the scene in 2008-09, winning the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie. But then he floundered for a few seasons and was written off as a legitimate number one goalie in the NHL. But, since arriving in Philadelphia in the middle of the 2012-13 season, Mason has been every bit a legitimate number one goalie.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Mason has appeared in 171 games. According to War on Ice, 53 goalies have played 2,500-plus minutes at 5-on-5 during that same stretch. Here’s a list of the goalies with a better save percentage at 5-on-5 than Mason during that time: Carey Price.
That’s it. Masons’s 93.1 5-on-5 save percentage since 2013 ranks second among all qualifying NHL goalies. So yes, the dude is a very good goalie and is capable of stealing games and maybe even a series.
Mason has played only nine playoff games in his career, and his numbers are deflated by a disastrous outing as a rookie. In five playoff games with the Flyers, he’s posted a 93.9 save percentage. Mason has never stolen a series, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of going toe-to-toe with Holtby, whose numbers are as good as any goalie in the history of the NHL playoffs.
Let’s take a look at how each guy did this season.
Braden Holtbylay on his back with his eyes glazed over looking at the rafters of Madison Square Garden. Derek Stepan celebrated in the corner as the New York Rangers headed to the Eastern Conference Final. Holtby had posted one of the best postseasons performances in National Hockey League history with a save percentage of .944 and a goals against average of 1.71 over 13 games. He had kept the Capitals afloat all playoffs, but he finally cracked.
A year later, Holtby comes into the postseason on a team with one of the best assemblages of talent we’ve seen in recent memory. Holtby is still the Washington Capitals’ rock, but he no longer has to do everything himself. Last year, Holtby played in 73 games, the most of any goalie in the league. As usual, Holtby handled the pressure well, but there was a lot of it. This season, the Caps were able to play Braden less. With a strong backup in Philipp Grubauer, Washington didn’t need Holtby to win every single night. In return, he delivered a Vezina-caliber performance, matching Martin Brodeur for the most victories in a single season. But come Thursday night, Playoff Braden will return.
“There’s something about Holts,” Nate Schmidt said. “Even just watching the last two days of practice. He’s incredibly dialed in. He kicked it into another gear.”