This was supposed to be Braden Holtby’s breakout season. The year he took the NHL by storm, played his way onto the Canadian Olympic team and carried the Capitals deep into the playoffs.
Instead, the 24-year-old goaltender will remember the 2013-14 season as one in which he not only lost his starting job but his identity as an aggressive and explosive netminder.
“It’s been no secret around here that we’ve been working on things in my game,” said Holtby, who is expected to make his final start of the season Sunday in the Capitals’ regular season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center [3 p.m., CSN].
“It’s just how the year went. The main thing was trying to get better. It’s just that you can’t change too much of a person’s personality. I just want to get back to where I feel comfortable in the net and confident. That’s one thing I’ll make sure I’ll do next year. I’ll be 100 percent confident in myself and in the group that we can win the Stanley Cup.”
In 47 games this season Holtby is 23-15-3 with a 2.92 GAA and a .913 save percentage. It was a big step backward from last season, when Holtby went 23-12-1 in 36 games with a 2.58 GAA and .920 save percentage.
Holtby began the season as the Caps’ No. 1 goalie but under the direction of first-year goalie coach Olie Kolzig he underwent a transformation in the way he played. Asked to remain deeper in his crease so that he could make himself available for back-door passes [story here], Holtby struggled with the adjustments, allowing long-range shots to slip under his arms.
“Olie has the same philosophy as me,” Holtby said. “We’ve never had a disagreement. We feel we’re on the same page, as we have been all year.”
Holtby lost his starting job to Philipp Grubauer in early December, playing in just three of 16 games from Dec. 10 through Jan. 15. After Grubauer was returned to Hershey, Holtby won just two of his next six appearances and, despite winning four straight games on either side of the Olympic break, the Caps traded for Jaroslav Halak at the March 5 trade deadline and Adam Oates started him in 11 of the next 13 games.
Halak is likely to sign with another NHL team this summer, leaving Holtby and perhaps Grubauer to battle for the No. 1 job next season. Whether Holtby will be playing under a new general manager and coaching staff remains to be seen.
“We’re human. We know what goes on,” he said. “We hear the rumblings, so you don’t ignore it. But we don’t have any control over that stuff. We’re just supposed to be playing and now we have to take the brunt of responsibilities this year and we didn’t do a good enough job.”
Holtby hinted that the problems that existed with the Capitals last season rose to the surface this season because of the club’s failure to make the playoffs.
“When you’re not successful it magnifies issues,” he said. “And when you’re having success it kind of masks it. I think at the end of last year we had the same problems going on, it’s just we were having a little more success.
“It is hard to put your finger on one thing because it never is one thing. As players we have to look at our individual leaders and see what we can do better coming into next year. Make sure are all in better shape than were and prepare in every single area.
“That’s how you get better. You find where the problems are and you fix them. That’s how you learn from adversity.”
Asked if this season should serve as a wakeup call to a team that has made the playoffs for six straight seasons, he said, “It should. It’s pretty simple. We didn’t make the playoffs. We need to be a lot better. We need to fix the areas that got us here. There’s not a hidden secret. We just have to find what went wrong and fix it.”