Going into the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs the starting goalie for the Washington Capitals is Braden Holtby. Holtby should be very familiar to Ranger fans because of his exceptional play against the Rangers in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. Holtby didn't always have a strong grip on the starting job this season after a very poor start but he has recently emerged as the clear-cut starter, going 10-1-0 in the month of April and finishing the season with a record of 23-12-1 to go along with thirty-five starts.
Holtby's stats this year, outside of wins, were mediocre. He finished right around the middle of the pack in SV % with .920 and his GAA of 2.58 left a lot to be desired. Holtby allowed four or more goals on seven separate occasions this year which certainly didn't do much to help his GAA. The 23 year old registered four shutouts this season but they were all against Southeast Division opponents, two of them came against the Jets. Holtby is a good goaltender but he certainly isn't among the elite at his position.
So how did Holtby fare against the Rangers this season? In three games Holtby went 1-2-0 and allowed seven goals in three games which was good for a .923 SV% against the Blueshirts. In the season series Holtby allowed a powerplay goal each game to the woeful Rangers powerplay though his PP SV% is almost identical to Henrik Lundqvist's. The Rangers averaged just 2.33 G/G against Holtby which isn't very encouraging but it is important to note that the Rangers and the Capitals didn't meet when both teams found their games late in the season.
If Holtby should struggle the Capitals can turn to Michal Neuvirth who started in twelve games this year. Neuvirth recently received a two-year $5 million extension to stay with the Washington Capitals and serve as the back-up and/or continue to challenge for the starting job. An interesting note: Neuvirth's recent contract extension pays him more than Holtby though both goalies are signed until the end of the 2014-2015 season. In thirteen appearances Neuvirth went 4-5-2 and finished with a .910 SV% and a 2.74 GAA.
There is no doubt that the Rangers have an enormous advantage in goaltending over the Capitals for this series and we all know just how important goaltending is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of all the playoff teams in the East, other than perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Capitals likely have the worst goaltending. The Rangers must challenge Holtby early and often and try to shake his confidence with early goals. If the Rangers can't find a way to crack Holtby then Hank and the blueliners are going to be put under an immense amount of pressure and they'll already have their hands full with Alex Ovechkin and company.
What Eastern Conference Playoff team has the best goaltending? Which team has the worst goaltending? Do you think the red-hot Rangers offense will carry over into the playoffs and give Holtby nightmares or will we see the offense that we saw for the first half of the season?
Let me know what you guys and gals think in the comments.
Let's go Rangers. Let's go Playoffs. Believe.