Braden Holtby has been revealed as a Vezina Trophy finalist, one of three goaltenders "adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs." (His competition? Ben Bishop and Jonathan Quick.) Holtby becomes the fourth Capitals' goaltender to be honored as a Vezina finalist, joining Pat Riggin (1983-84) and eventual winners Jim Carey (1995-96) and Olie Kolzig (1999-00).
Back in the spring of 2012, injuries to the team's top two goaltenders opened the door for Braden Holtby to step in as the de facto #1 guy heading into the playoffs. What he did that spring not only kicked off what has become a trend of sparkling playoff performances, but also gave us a glimpse of the greatness he would soon be capable of.
Over the past two seasons, and particularly this year, he's proven that it wasn't a fluke - he is an elite goaltender, capable of matching the best in the League save for save. Last summer the team smartly locked him up long-term, and the move paid off big time as he went on to be, despite a late-season stumble, one of the League's top goalies (and most of the time THE top) during the 2015-16 season. And today we learned that the League's general managers agreed.
It is a welcome, but not unsurprising cherry on the sundae in what has been an extraordinary season for both Holtby and the Caps. Holtby, a goalie who has occasionally needed a bit of time to get into a season, shrugged off the "slow-starter" moniker by putting together a strong October run. His 6-2-0 record and .924 save percentage in the opening month of the season led into a November in which he topped those numbers, going 9-2-0 (with one shutout) and posting a .927 save percentage. Along the way, he started a run of games in which he would help the team earn at least a point in the next 23 straight games, and earned himself second star of the week and month honors.
Of course, none of that compares to the performance he put together in December, when he went 9-0-1, turned aside 320 of the 338 shots he faced for an insane .947 save percentage and posted his second shutout of the season. More League star honors followed, as did his first career selection to the NHL All-Star Game. In large part due to his work, the team took a six-point lead in the Conference just before Christmas... and never looked back.
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Holtby's stellar first three months took a bit of a hit to kick off 2016, as his performance - and by extension, the team's - slipped in January and February, as he struggled to regain his rhythm after some long layoffs and stopped just over 90% of the shots that came his way.
The wins kept coming, though, and by March he had seemingly found his form again, finishing the month 7-2-2 with a .928 save percentage and sitting just two wins shy of Martin Brodeur's record. A dominant win in St. Louis in the season's penultimate game brought Holtby into a tie with Brodeur; a bit bittersweet that he didn't break it, perhaps... but 48 wins (in just 66 games) and a place alongside one of the best to ever strap on the goalie pads? That's nothing to sneeze at.
As we all know by now, the individual awards and the regular-season triumphs are just stops along the way to the ultimate goal; Holtby himself will be the first to tell you that. Still, it was a season and a performance worth celebrating, and hopefully one that will be honored with the Vezina come June... perhaps as one of many shiny objects he'll be taking home this summer.