It wasn’t much longer than a week ago that everyone in the NHL was asking what was going to happen to Washington in the offseason. They dropped the first two games of the series at home and were preparing to head back to Columbus for two critical road games.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer started the series for the Washington Capitals but was replaced with Braden Holtby in game two after allowing 4.57 goals per game with just a .837 save percentage.
The Capitals still lost game two, but the change at goalie by head coach Barry Trotz proved to be the difference maker for the rest of the series.
Holtby posted a 4-1 record in the series with a 1.92 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Holtby’s strong play saved the series for the Washington Capitals, and now they will have a shot at the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Once he came in Holtby was completely in control. The Capitals as a whole began to feed off the momentum of a hot goaltender. When the Blue Jackets shoot they usually find ways to hit the net, and this series was no different. Holtby faced a tremendous amount of shots, and 53 percent of them were on goal.
In a pivotal game three Holtby took over the game making 33 saves on 35 shots; including nine saves in the two overtimes. He only allowed two goals throughout the whole game, and only one of them was at even strength. Game three was a momentum builder for both Holtby and the Capitals, and it translated to the rest of the series.
The penalty kill for the Capitals hit a whole new level with Holtby in the net in games four, five and six. The Caps went a perfect 13 for 13 in those games on the kill; completely stalling out the Blue Jackets power play.
Holtby did benefit a lot from his best-friend behind him. The Blue Jackets hit the post five times in the series, which stands as the highest total throughout the entire first-round.
Beating The Pens
The Capitals and Penguins are meeting yet again in the postseason, but this time Holtby and the Caps will be looking to take them down.
After a tremendous series against the Blue Jackets, Holtby is looking to keep it going against the Pens, but Pittsburgh has proven they can exploit any players weaknesses.
But what are Holtby’s weaknesses?
Shots From The Left Slot
It has been a known weakness for Holtby for awhile now, but he is susceptible to shots from the left slot area, specifically on his low blocker side.
The Blue Jackets tried to exploit this, but couldn’t. Columbus scored nine goals with Holtby in net this series, of those nine, five came from the left slot.
In an article written by Kevin Woodley, it is pointed out that Holtby allowed 18 goals to his low blocker side. The highest total of anywhere on his body this season.
This weak link on the left side will open the door for Pittsburgh’s right-handed scorers to potentially have a more significant impact.
Pittsburgh Exploiting It?
Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, and Bryan Rust are the most notable right-handed players for the Penguins this year, and they have had success against the Capitals this year.
In four games against the Capitals this season, Kessel was able to score three goals and added an assist as well. Hornqvist also added the same numbers. Rust had two assists against the Caps as well as one goal.
The three scorers combined for six goals and eight assists in their series against the Flyers, but they will be looking to put up even more significant numbers against Washington.
Of course, players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are going to score, but if these players can attack Holtby’s low blocker from the left side, they could find some success.