The period of time between the trade deadline and early April is when NHL teams hope that their players will either continue already-strong play, or improve upon play that hasn’t been satisfactory. Atop the Metropolitan Division, this is especially true for everybody in the Washington Capitals dressing room, but specifically for goaltender Braden Holtby. Holtby has been the backbone of a very consistent Washington squad over the past few seasons, but as the 2018 playoffs approach, it seems as if the story may be a bit different this year.
From the beginning of the season up until December, Holtby looked to be continuing as one of the league’s top netminders. On the other hand, his backup, Philipp Grubauer, had struggled mightily, failing to win his first game until November 24th, his seventh start of the season. However, since the turn of the calendar year, the story has changed quite significantly.
Since the start of 2018, Holtby has not been the goaltender that we’ve seen over the past few seasons, and that might be an understatement. In 18 starts so far this year, Holtby has posted a 7-7-4 record, with a 3.65 Goals Against Average and a .884 save percentage. To say that these numbers aren’t skewed at all would be a flat-out lie. The Caps as a whole have not played well since the turn of the year; with a 14-10-4 record, the previously-dominant Washington squad has dropped back down to the same level as teams such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Keeping this in mind, the fact that Grubauer has posted a 7-3-0 record in 2018, accompanied by a 1.64 GAA and a .947 SV% may be significant.
The numbers don’t lie in this one: Grubauer has been the significantly better goaltender since the turn of the calendar year. However, the decision isn’t necessarily as easy as by-the-numbers for Washington’s coaching staff. Holtby has been the long-time starter for the team, and has significantly more playoff experience than Grubauer, who has only started one playoff game in his career. With the playoffs less than a month away, and the division being as tight as it is, the best bet for Washington might be to ride the hot hand in net, something the team hasn’t had to deal with since the days of Semyon Varlomov. As the playoffs near closer and closer, there is plenty of time for trends to change but, should the Capitals’ goaltending problem remain, we may see a change in who owns the crease come playoff time in Washington.