Through the Caps’ first four postseason games, Braden Holtby’s numbers haven’t been very Braden Holtby-like.
In fact, this year’s William M. Jennings Trophy winner ranks 15th in both save percentage (.907) and goals against average (3.02) among goalies who have appeared in at least three games. He's allowed 2, 4, 4 and 4 goals, respectively, in a Washington-Toronto series that's knotted 2-2.
For comparison’s sake, Holtby entered the playoffs with a .938 save percentage—the best postseason percentage in league history.
Asked to assess his starting goalie’s play on Thursday, Trotz said he's not concerned and pointed to the number of “strange” bounces that Holtby's seen as the primary reason his play may not appear up to its usual stratospheric standards.
“It’s hard to gauge it because they’ve had a lot of strange stuff,” Trotz said. “During the year, goalies do everything on predictability. And there’s a lot of things that aren’t very predictable right now. And that, at times, makes Braden look like he’s not there. But it’s bouncing off four different guys.”
Trotz added: “He’s playing fine. But it’s not very predictable right now because there’s stuff that is bouncing all over. It’s a pinball machine out there a little bit.”
Trotz’s point is a legitimate one.
In just the two games in Toronto, one puck hit Nate Schmidt in the visor and went to Auston Matthews. Then there were the pucks that went in off of the skates of Zach Hyman and Dmitry Orlov. Another went off of Brooks Orpik’s backside. The Leafs have also scored three times on the power play in the series.
“They wrist it from the point and he’s in position and it goes off of Brooks and [Connor] Brown in front,” Trotz said of Nazem Kadri’s Game 3 tally that went in off of Orpik. “Kadri threw the puck to the net. [Holtby] is expecting it to be at his chest and all of a sudden it’s changing six feet.”
It should also be noted that the Leafs have done a good job creating havoc in and around the crease and hunting rebounds. In addition, Holtby has faced more shots—150—than any other goalie in the playoffs, including the 34 he saw in Wednesday’s pivotal 5-4 win at Air Canada Centre.
The victory evened the series and earned the Caps the day off from skating on Thursday. But that didn’t stop Holtby from getting on the ice around 10 a.m. for some fine tuning with goalie coach Mitch Korn.
“He’s a guy that wants to work and do stuff,” Trotz said, asked about Holtby hopping on for some extra work. “He’s one of those that a body in motion stays in motion, you know?”
Holtby's dogged work ethic has always separated him from his peers. But it's not the biggest reason Trotz remains confident Holtby will manage to push through this challenging stretch. That would be Holtby's mental toughness.
“Those are things that things that are just happening and you got to deal with that mentally,” Trotz said of the bad bounces. “And he is; he’s a tough goaltender. One thing I know about Braden is that he’s got some good Saskatchewan blood in him. He’s hardnosed and he fights through that. I’m not worried about him at all.”
Holtby did not speak to reporters since it was not an official practice.
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