Even if you’ve tuned in to only a couple of Washington Capitals games this year, chances are you’ve seen Braden Holtby tend the goal and ultimately come out with a win.
He’s done that 46 times this year, more than any goaltender over the past nine seasons.
Holtby is chasing the NHL’s record for wins by a goaltender in a single season, set by longtime New Jersey Devil goaltender Martin Brodeur, who managed to tally 47 wins in the 2006-07 season.
With just two games remaining on the schedule, back-to-back weekend efforts against the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks, Holtby likely will not have an opportunity to break Brodeur’s record. Head coach Barry Trotz has already stated that Holtby will “absolutely not” play in both of the final two games.
But that still gives Holtby a single opportunity to at least tie the single-season record, and if he does so, it will be a great accomplishment to end a great season. On top of Holtby’s impressive win totals, his .921 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average are among the NHL’s best. And in a particularly tight Vezina Trophy race, the trophy given to the NHL’s top goaltender, Holtby’s win totals may ultimately give him the accolade nod.
Dating back to the 1929-30 season, when Boston Bruins’ goaltender Tiny Thompson set the single-season win total, the single-season win mark has been set by seven different goaltenders. Of those seven goaltenders, six went on to win the Vezina Trophy that same year.
Holtby’s accomplishment is particularly impressive when you consider the amount of games he has played. In the 2006-07 season, Brodeur played in 78 games when he set the record. So while he won 47 games in a single season, he also lost 23 games in regulation and another seven in overtime. Assuming Holtby does only end up playing in one of the final two games, he will have only appeared in 66 games this season, 12 fewer than Brodeur. Holtby has lost just nine games in regulation this year and another seven in overtime. He has become the first player in NHL history to record at least 45 wins while playing fewer than 70 games in a season.
But Holtby has his work cut out for him if he wants to share the record with Brodeur. Whether he plays against the Blues or the Ducks, Holtby will face an elite offense. Since the beginning of March, the Blues have scored the fourth-most goals in the NHL, 59, and the Ducks aren’t too far behind with 57 goals, the seventh-most in the NHL.
Holtby has already suited up against the Ducks this season, earning a victory in a shootout early in March. He hasn’t suited up against the Blues yet this season -- backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer got that start and surrendered four goals in a losing effort.
Whether or not Holtby ties Brodeur’s record is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain: The goaltender has had a year to remember, and one we may never see again.