Days after learning that Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was voted to captain the Metropolitan Division All-Star Team in Tampa late this month, Washington bench boss Barry Trotz earned the honor of coaching that team via the Caps’ lofty standings perch. Today, we learned that Caps goaltender Braden Holtby will joining Ovechkin and Trotz in Tampa from Jan. 26-28, and that Caps defenseman John Carlson was not named to the team.
Holtby is headed to the league’s midseason All-Star event for the third time in as many seasons. Although his GAA (2.68) and save pct. (.917) figures have not been as impressive this season as in the previous three campaigns, goal scoring is up around the NHL this season and Holtby is playing behind a less experienced group of defensemen.
Aiming for what would be an NHL record fourth straight season with 40 or more victories, Holtby has 24 wins in 2017-18, ranking second in the league to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (27). Holtby has allowed two or fewer goals in half of his 32 starts this season, and Washington is 15-1-0 in those games. He has delivered a “quality start” in 22 of his 32 starts this season, and his .688 quality start pct. is the best of his career and well above his career mark of .613.
Since the outset of the 2013-14 season, Holtby’s 178 wins are 26 more than any other goaltender in the league over the same time span; Boston’s Tuukka Rask is second on that list with 152.
With Washington integrating a pair of rookie defensemen (Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos) into its regular blueline rotation, the Caps have endured some growing pains in the first half of this season. Last year’s Caps team permitted a franchise record low 177 goals, the lowest total in the NHL in 2016-17. This year’s Caps rank 14
th in the league with 120 goals against.
Holtby knew going into this season that both he and the Caps would be facing more difficult circumstances and situations than in previous seasons because of the amount of offseason roster turnover, but the Caps also have more rookies (four) playing regularly than they’ve had in more than three and a half decades.
“Obviously it’s going to be a challenge,” said Holtby, days before the season got underway, “but a fun one that a lot of us are looking forward to. I think us as veteran guys, we need to expect more out of ourselves, and that’s especially true early on to make those young guys feel comfortable and make it known that they shouldn’t be scared to make mistakes, just go out and play.
“And us goaltenders – myself and [Philipp Grubauer] – need to be prepared to make a couple of extra saves here and there to make the young guys on the back end feel comfortable and play their game. I think that’s a big part, and that’s a big part of being a goaltender and being a leader that way. That’s going to be fun for myself and for Phil. I think it’s going to be exciting.”
Holtby’s most recent win was a 4-3 overtime triumph over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon. He made a trio of critical saves late in that game, one in regulation and two in overtime, in order to secure a pair of points for his team.
Working overtime has been a fairly routine situation for Holtby this season. Nine of his 24 victories have been achieved in overtime or the shootout, and he’s been perfect (9-0-0) in those games. Holtby has stopped all 19 shots he has faced in overtime this season, and he has stopped eight of nine shootout attempts. Dating back to late in the 2016-17 regular season, Holtby has won 11 straight games beyond the 60-minute mark, taking seven of them in overtime and four in the shootout.
In a division as tight as the Metropolitan, Holtby has been a difference-maker, helping the Caps collect a number of points they might not have otherwise collected.
In making one of those overtime stops against the Blues, Holtby handed praise to Carlson, who learned on his 28
th birthday that he would not be representing the Metro Division in Tampa despite a stellar first half.
“I thought Carly did a great job of playing that,” says Holtby, “forcing [the shooter] to delay, giving [Evgeny Kuznetsov] time to get back and force them to make a lower percentage shot. That’s the one thing you want to do on a two-on-one or a three-on-one; you don’t want to give them a breakaway. You want to force them to make a play and buy time for guys to get back and I think Carly did a great job of that. And realistically, he set me up to be able to make that save.”
It’s not just his work in his own end that makes Carlson worthy of selection to this season’s Metro Division All-Star squad.
Carlson ranks second among all NHL defensemen in both assists (29) and points (34) this season, trailing only Dallas’ John Klingberg in both categories. In just 43 games this season, Carlson is already only three points shy of the 37 he posted in 72 games in 2016-17. He has recorded a point in 20 of Washington’s 27 wins this season, trailing only Ovechkin in that regard. Carlson’s averages of .67 assists per game and .79 points per game are both career highs.
Carlson also ranks fourth in the league with an average of 26:17 in ice time per night, a career high figure. He has been Washington’s ice time leader at night’s end in 34 of the team’s 43 games this season.
Each of the eight teams in the Metro must be represented by at least one player, and each division’s roster is roughly half the size of a normal NHL roster. All-Star squads contain only 11 players, six forwards, three defensemen and a pair of netminders.
Stick tap to the estimable Carter Myers for some of the statistical data contained in this piece.