October 28, 2020

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part III: Rate the goalies

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RockTheRed.com.

Part III: Rate the goalies (with grade an explanation):

DAVE: B. Look, on the list of things that went wrong for the Capitals this season — despite management’s ham-handedness shuttling four goalies in and out — goaltending wouldn’t be particularly high on the list. Braden Holtby was decent-to-very good most of the season, but a little slump around Thanksgiving found him on the bench watching Philipp Grubauer try to save the team. Then Michal Neuvirth was able to wiggle his way out of town, only to have Holtby usurped once again by trade object Jaroslav Halak.

The biggest problem with the Caps goalies was the sheer number of shots they faced this season. Holtby’s 5v5 save percentage was good, but 93 percent of 1000 is more than 93 percent of 500, if you get my drift. No goalie could thrive on the number of shots the porous Caps defense allowed. That has to be a main point of emphasis in the offseason. Holtby and Grubauer going forward should form a solid foundation. We’ll see if the new bosses share that opinion or want another guy.

KATIE: If I had to rate the management of the goaltenders, this would be a D. Since I don’t think any of the Capitals’ problems were directly related to goaltending, this gets a B. Despite the gross mismanagement of assets, goaltending was one of the only positions that did not end up being a completely unmitigated disaster.

Braden Holtby is and should be the Capitals’ #1 goaltender. There was no reason to trade for Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline, nor was there reason to sit the starting and backup goaltenders for a month in favor of Phillip Grubauer, no matter how well he played. Halak is a good goalie, but the Capitals were not lacking talent in net, and goaltending was certainly not to blame for the rest of the team’s ills, but any problems there were a symptom of defensive issues and poor puck possession by the rest of the team. Oates’ proclivity for “riding the hot hand” and starting goalies in back-to-backs as well as tinkering with players’ styles didn’t do them any favors either.

J.J.: C. With the team’s dysfunction and goalie carousel, goaltending appeared to be much more of an issue than it actually was.

Jaroslav Halak was brought in at the trade deadline to bolster the team in net and he performed well. He had the best GAA (2.31) and save percentage (.930) of the four goalies who played for the Caps this season, but managed a record of only 5-4-3. Even though his stats show he was an upgrade, that didn’t translate in the standings. If you get better at one position but the team does not improve then that position wasn’t the problem.

The Caps were 27th this season in shots against. More shots mean more goals. The team struggled both in terms of defense and possession and it made the goaltending look far worse than it was.

The only real notable problem in net was Braden Holtby’s struggle with the team’s change in goaltending philosophy. Holtby was supplanted by Philipp Grubauer midway through the season and had to regain his confidence, but he seemed to play better towards the end of the season.

The goaltending wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either.

SKY: C+.  Could they have been better? Absolutely.  But the goaltending was handled poorly the entire season, having three up here at the same time was a disaster.  Also the reported comments of McPhee saying the Caps would be ten points better with better goaltending was the cherry on top.  Jaroslav Halak proved that wasn’t the case.  Halak said it was the first time he’s ever seen a two on zero breakaway in front of him.  Welcome to the 2013-14 Capitals, Jaro.  It wasn’t the goaltending.  Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have bright futures.

HARRY: I give the goaltending an A-.  No matter who was in goal, almost every night they were forced to keep the team in the game by facing an obscene amount of shots from everywhere on the ice.  The only goalie who played significant time who struggled at all was Braden Holtby, who fans have turned on (for some reason) despite his .915 overall save percentage and impressive .930 even strength save percentage.  That latter number was good enough for a tie for 6th in the NHL, alongside Jonathan Bernier and Henrik Lundqvist.  Overall, the goalies were a bright spot.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP


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