Throughout the early stages of the 2013-14 season, the Washington Capitals have been on a bit of a roller coaster, seemingly either winning or losing three games at a time. During this time, they have been buoyed by the 21 goals that Alexander Ovechkin has provided, but there may not be a player who has been more important than Braden Holtby.
Thus far in the 2013-14 season, Holtby has gone 13-9-1 with a 2.71 GAA, and .923 save percentage, in turn making all of the saves necessary to be a starting goaltender in the NHL. While there may have been questions about his long-term viability as a starter in the league heading into the year, there is now no doubting that the 24 year old will be sticking around for quite a while.
What there are questions about is whether the Capitals reliance on Holtby during the early stages of the 2013-14 season will come back to bite them later on in the season. Not only has he started 24 out of the team’s 29 games (and 13 out of the last 15), but he has been extremely busy while doing so. In these 24 games, the goaltender has faced an average of 30.375 shots per game, which would obviously be even higher if he hadn’t been pulled in three games.
There is no doubting that facing this type of workload, both in total and on a night-to-night basis, is not only hard to deal with, but is nearly impossible for someone not named Martin Brodeur. One would think that head coach Adam Oates would realize this, but this has clearly not been the case, even when Michal Neuvirth was healthy and proving to be a viable backup. Now that Neuvirth is out to injury, Oates has only seemed to become more defiant in his preference of Holtby as starting goalie, with rookie Philipp Grubauer only being assured ice time in a blowout.
With Holtby never having played more than 36 games at the NHL level in a single season — and only 75 games in total — one must wonder when enough is enough. Sunday night’s game against the New York Rangers will mark his seventh straight as starting goaltender, and leaves him on pace to play in 68 games for the entirety of the 2013-14 season.
When it is considered that Holtby could yet gain a spot on the Canadian Olympic Team, there is no doubting that the 24 year old will be facing a workload like never before, and very well could suffer for it during the second half of the season. This is certainly not something that anybody supporting the Capitals will want to hear, and leaves the team with a virtual necessity to give him a slew of days off going forward. Not doing so could both hurt the goaltender in terms of health, and be a death blow to Washington’s Stanley Cup aspirations.