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Holtbeast Returns: A Closer Look at Braden Holtby’s Stellar Start

Why Holtby’s first half of the 2016-17 season should once again have him headlining the Vezina discussion

Columbus Blue Jackets v Washington Capitals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Nearly seven months ago, Braden Holtby was announced to the hockey world as the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winner as the League’s best goalie - an award he won comfortably, fueled by his record-tying 48 wins, strong 2.20 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.

He’s been better so far this season.

It’s a trend we started talking about a few months ago, but as the season drifts toward the halfway point, it’s become even more clear that Holtby’s 2016-17 season is leaving last year’s Vezina campaign in the dust.

That’s probably not all that surprising, actually, when you recall that Holtby had a pretty significant swoon through the early part of the 2016 calendar year, and reasonable minds differed as to whether or not Holtby even was ultimately the circuit’s best netminder. But again... wins.

And that brings us to 2016-17. First, some high-level comparisons:

Holtby’s year-to-date numbers so far this season are strikingly similar to last year’s, with a few more shutouts this time around and a handful of “W’s” shifted to the “L” column (results which are largely out of a goalie’s control).

But let’s dig a little deeper. Here’s Holtby at five-on-five (data via Corsica.Hockey, score- and venue-adjusted):

Again, strikingly similar, year-to-date... but a tiny bit better across the board, be it on low-, medium- or high-danger shots. On low-danger shots, Holtby’s 99.4 save percentage (305-for-307) is tops among all goalies who have played 310 or more minutes at five-on-five, and his 85.0 mark on high-danger shots ranks just behind Devan Dubnyk, Carey Price and Corey Crawford (other names you frequently hear swirling in 2016-17 Vezina talk) among 1,000-minute goalies.

So should we expect another mid-winter dip in Holtby’s numbers? Maybe - a bit of a regression wouldn’t be terribly surprising (in fact, the lack of one would probably be more unexpected), but with the Caps very much in a standings dogfight this time around and not sitting on a big lead in the Division and Conference, the team has more reason to be and stay engaged. And a (slightly) lighter workload may also help Holtby maintain his hot half-season, which is more likely given how strong his backup, Philipp Grubauer, has been this season.

The bottom line here is that Braden Holtby has been terrific through the first half of the 2016-17 season and given the Caps a good chance to win nearly every time out (his quality-start percentage ranks third among starters and he’s only had a single “real bad start”). Last year’s Vezina winner is well on his way to delivering an impressive encore.