Last season Braden Holtby added a nice piece of hardware to his mantel in the Vezina Trophy — a handsome prize to recognize a season in which Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s record for single-season wins by a goaltender.
But it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately League, and even though we’re only nearing the end of the season’s second month, last season is but a glimmer in the rearview mirror. Holtby’s started fourteen of the squad’s first eighteen games, which paces him just a shade behind last year’s sixty-six starts. So let’s take a look at how he stacks up against his contemporaries, determined by other goaltenders who have started at least 8 games on the young season.
That red dot is Holtby. The y-axis here shows five-on-five save percentage, and the x-axis shows five-on-five goals allowed per 60 minutes. Long story short, up and to the left is good, down and to the right is bad. The only starting goaltenders who have better numbers than Braden at five on five are Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Devyn Dubnyk, and Corey Crawford.
Holtby’s numbers at fives are good enough, in fact, to eclipse the marks he put up last season, although sample size caveats there are obvious.
With the team in front of him allowing 5v5 shots on net at about the same clip as they did last season, Holts has goosed his save percentage by nearly 2 percentage points. The on-the-scoreboard outcome? Well...fewer goals.
Again, the sample size discrepancy is no small factor here, but it’s easy to say with certainty that Holts has been on his game in the early goings of his Vezina-defense season.
Unfortunately for Braden, the game isn’t played solely at fives, and when you look at his performance when the good guys are down a man there’s considerably less to smile about. Here’s the same scatterplot look as before, except with the performance data at 4v5.
Up and to the left is a long ways away for our red dot in this scenario, which certainly wasn’t the case for the Holtbeast a season ago.
Higher shot rates against the PK unit and an almost six percentage-point decline in save decline is going to tell an ugly story for the goals-against numbers, and sure enough...
Granted, Holtby’s ugly numbers on the penalty kill are somewhat subject to the struggles of the guys in front of him (the Caps’ PK is presently 17th in the League with an 81.6% kill rate, down from 85.2% in 2015-2016, which was good for second in the League), but there’s some truth to the old adage about your goaltender being your best penalty killer. The penalty killers are allowing shots at a bit of a higher rate, but looking at the raw numbers that works out to just two more shots per 60 minutes of penalty-kill time... not nearly enough, one would think, to place the blame solely on the skaters in front of Holtby.
Ultimately, five-on-five situations tell more about a goaltender’s performance, but it’s on a sturdy limb you can stand and say that Holtby isn’t coming up with the big saves a man down that he was a year ago. That said, 4v5 save percentage is highly variable and not a great indicator of goaltender performance, and based on what we see from Braden in terms of the performance variables he’s actually able to control, he might be even better than he was last year.