When one thinks about goaltenders in the National Hockey League, one thinks of tandems – a lead and a backup. Roles clearly defined, each team assigning them in similar fashion. But there is another way of looking at goaltending tandems. To what extent has a pair of goalies dominated their team’s landscape over the long arc of seasons?
On October 11, 1989, a 19-year-old goalie made his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals. It was not the sort of debut he might have dreamt about. Olaf Kolzig, taken with the 19th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft the previous summer, stopped 19 of 23 shots in taking a 4-1 loss against the Hartford Whalers. He would get a lot better. Starting with that game, the Caps have played 2,375 regular season games. It is a span of the team’s history in which goaltending has been dominated by Kolzig and Braden Holtby. How much have they dominated Capitals goaltending?
- Kolzig and Holtby have combined to appear in 1,179 regular season games (711 for Kolzig, 468 for Holtby), almost exactly half of the games played by the Caps since Kolzig made his debut (49.6 percent).
- The pair has started a combined 1,142 games (Kolzig with 684; Holtby with 458). The other 1,233 starts are shared by 28 other goaltenders.
- Kolzig and Holtby account for 583 of the 1,200 regular season wins for the Caps since Kolzig’s debut, 48.6 percent of the total (Kolzig has 301 wins, Holtby has 282).
- Each has 35 shutouts with the Caps, their combined total of 70 shutouts accounting for 51.5 percent of the 136 shutouts credited to Caps goaltenders over the period.
- The Kolzig-Holtby tandem has faced a combined 33,359 shots (Kolzig with 19,873 and Holtby with 13,486), 48.3 percent of the 69,017 shots faced by all Caps goaltenders over the period.
- The duo accounts for 30,366 of the 62,472 saves made by Caps goalies over the period (18,013 for Kolzig; 12,353 for Holtby), 48.6 percent of the total.
- Eleven times in team history a goalie has appeared in 60 or more games for the Caps. Kolzig (seven times) and Holtby (three) account for six of them (Jim Carey is the other).
- Even in the category of points, these two goalies dominate. Kolzig has 17 points over the period, Holtby another 11 (all assists for each). No other Caps goalie over the period has more than five (Jose Theodore).
- The dominance of the duo extends to the postseason. Kolzig appeared in 45 postseason games since his 1989 debut, while Holtby appeared in 89. Their combined 134 appearances is 58.5 percent of all Caps playoff games since the 1989-1990 season.
- Since Kolzig’s 1989 debut, the Caps have 111 postseason wins. Kolzig (20 wins) and Holtby (48 wins) account for 68 of them, 61.3 percent of the total. Holtby’s 48 wins is more than the total number of playoff games played by any other goalie in Caps history.
- With 13 playoff shutouts between them, Kolzig (six) and Holtby (seven) account for 68.4 percent of the 19 postseason shutouts by goaltenders in team history.
Kolzig and Holtby are rather uncommon among goalie tandems across the years. Since Kolzig’s debut in October 1989, only two pairs of goalies have appeared in more regular season games for their respective teams. Here is the complete list of top goalie pairs and games played, by franchise, over the period:
The same goes for regular season wins. Kolzig and Holtby, with 583 wins between them, rank third among team tandems over the period:
The Kolzig-Holtby duo does not dominate to the same degree among the league’s top duos over this period in postseason games, a reflection of the Capitals’ frustration at advancing past the second round over the years until they won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Still, they do rank in the top-third in the league in both playoff games played by a goalie pair and in playoff wins:
While both Kolzig and Holtby have suffered taking the decisions in the Caps’ persistent failure to reach the third round, 2018 notwithstanding, they have combined to display top-notch performances in their production numbers. Among the 70 goalies to appear in at least 25 postseason games since 1990, both Kolzig and Holtby rank in the top ten in goals against average (Holtby seventh at 2.09; Kolzig ninth at 2.14), and they hold two of the top six save percentages over that span of postseason appearances (Holtby fifth at .928; Kolzig sixth at .927).
Few teams have had a pair of goaltenders dominate with their presence and performance over the past 30 years as much as the Capitals. Almost none, in fact. As the team enters what could be a new phase in its goaltending history, “The Age of Ilya Samsonov,” fans might stop to appreciate that which they have been witness to at the position over the last three decades.