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Braden Holtby's playoff stats aren't very Holtby-like

Braden Holtby's playoff stats aren't very Holtby-like

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.”

RELATED: Will Schmidt's play keep him in the lineup?

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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How do the Caps recover from the loss of Nate Schmidt?

How do the Caps recover from the loss of Nate Schmidt?

All of Caps nation is reeling over the loss of Nate Schmidt to the expansion draft. A fan-favorite and budding top-four defenseman, his departure stings not just because of the loss of his personality, but because of the role he was expected to take next season.

Schmidt was ascending to a top-four role on the Caps next season, but that plan is in shambles and rebuilding the defense now becomes one of the team’s top priorities for the offseason.

Among the team’s current defensemen, there is no clear candidate to take Schmidt’s spot. Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson stand as the team’s top three. Behind them are Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney, neither of whom anyone could reasonably expect to take on a top-four role.

In a statement released on Tuesday, MacLellan said, “We feel we have a young group of up-and-coming defensemen who will now have an opportunity in Washington and are ready to make the jump with our club.”

RELATED: Holtby falls short of claiming second Vezina

MacLellan is no doubt referring to Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos. Both players were expected to compete for a roster spot this season, but it was thought there would be room for only one on the third pairing. Now the Caps have two spots in the lineup open.

At the end of the season, the Caps had a choice of what direction they would go in next year. They could start over and rebuild or try to retool the team on the fly. Rather than start over they chose to retool, meaning they are still gunning for postseason success. A rebuilding team can afford two rookie defensemen in the lineup, but a team looking to make the playoffs and push for a deep run likely cannot. That is not a knock on either Bowey or Djoos both of whom have high ceilings and could develop into very good NHL players, there just seems to be a disconnect between the direction the team wants to go in next season and having to play both Bowey and Djoos regularly in the lineup.

If the Caps cannot replace Schmidt internally, what about externally?

With Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov all in need of new deals, the Caps are not expected to have much money to work with this summer and top-four defensemen don’t come cheap. Schmidt was at the end of his contract, but as a restricted free agent, the team could have signed him for much cheaper than any top-four defenseman they can find in free agency. Even if the Caps could make a splash in free agency, there is not a whole lot to work with among the players available.

Does this reopen the door for the team to re-sign Alzner? Washington is the only team he has ever known and he made clear at the end of the season that he is not looking forward to being a free agent. The Capitals, however, will likely not be able to afford what Alzner could get on the open market. He may be willing to take a discount to stay in Washington, but MacLellan must also consider the changing landscape of the NHL. The league is moving more towards speedy, puck-moving blueliners and farther away from stay at home defensemen like Alzner. Can the Caps really afford a top-six that includes both Alzner and Orpik in today’s NHL? Probably not.

So what are the Caps to do? The answer may come in the form of a trade.

Losing Schmidt means that Philipp Grubauer remains in the fold. His position in the team, however, has not changed. Braden Holtby remains the starter and prospect Ilya Samsonov is still seen as the team’s future starter. That makes Grubauer, a high-value asset, expendable.

Having a dependable backup is important, but a top-four defenseman is more so. One will play 20-30 games per season unless the starter suffers an injury, the other will be expected to have a major role every night.

When MacLellan spoke to reporters in May, it did not sound as if he was planning on making any major moves this offseason. The loss of Schmidt may now force his hand.

MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan says prospects 'ready to make the jump' to replace Schmidt

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MacLellan releases statement on Schmidt, says Caps have prospects 'ready to make the jump'

MacLellan releases statement on Schmidt, says Caps have prospects 'ready to make the jump'

Nate Schmidt is headed to Vegas and now the Caps are left to pick up the pieces and plug the hole they suddenly find in the top-four of their defense.

How do the Caps plan to plug that hole? General manager Brian MacLellan sounds pretty confident the team has internal candidates ready to step up.

RELATED: Vegas swipes Schmidt from Caps in expansion draft

MacLellan released the following statement on Tuesday:

We want to thank Nate for his contributions to our organization the past four seasons and wish him all the best in Vegas. We feel we have a young group of up-and-coming defensemen who will now have an opportunity in Washington and are ready to make the jump with our club.

Prospects Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos are expected to compete for spots on the Capitals' roster this season, but is either one of them ready to step into a top-four role right away? As confident as MacLellan may sound, he may have to look outside of the club in order to replace Schmidt next season.

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby falls short of claiming second Vezina