Opponent’s scouting report: Braden Holtby

As luck would have it, the Rangers drew the Caps in the second round and they were the only team in the Eastern Conference that didn’t get a goalie scouting report prior to the start of the second season.  Luckier still, at the time I was previewing the potential goaltending matchups the Rangers might run into, Braden Holtby was the third option in goal for the Caps, and not even on most fans’ radar.  All that changed with a rock solid performance in knocking off the defending champion Boston Bruins, and now Holtby is very much on the radar.  Same structure as always applies, general style, strengths, weaknesses and how the Rangers should approach the matchup.  Let’s get to it…

General Style

This is probably the subject of a whole different post, but modern goaltending, despite a few stylistic outliers can now be classified into two camps.  There are very few NHL tenders who aren’t gifted athletes at this point, one camp using that athleticism to maximize the results of an efficient style in the net, the others allow their athleticism to override their technical soundness.  For example, goalies like Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price are all tremendously athletic goaltenders, but they use that athletic ability inside a disciplined system which helps keep them from over-moving and other traps of the overzealous keeper.  Guys like Antti Neimi, Sergei Bobrovsky and Jonas Gustavsson fall into the other camp.  They are incredible athletes, but that tends to get in the way of them stopping the puck.  Until they learn that sliding in a butterfly covers more surface area than a split save, they will continue to come up short on their potential.

The whole point of that explanation is Braden Holtby.  He walks that fine line.  While not nearly as disciplined as the elite tenders mentioned above, he displays remarkable control and efficiency in the net for someone with his relative inexperience and youth.  You can tell by watching him play that he maintains an energy level that those of us over the age of 25 are quite envious of, but doesn’t allow himself to devolve into the second group of goalies.

This is a really long winded way of saying that Holtby plays a fundamentally sound style, while flashing at times ridiculous athleticism.

Strengths

As anyone who watched the last series between the Caps and Bruins knows that one of Holtby’s biggest strengths is his poise.  He maintains a calm demeanor and is seemingly unaffected by the stage is he playing on.  He is a strong skater and lateral mover, which helps with the relatively weak Washington blue line.

Analysts tend to think because he was third on the Washington depth chart, that he is just riding a hot streak or playing over his head.  From an evaluation standpoint though, this kid is the real deal.  I find pedigree on goaltenders fairly meaningless (Hank is a 7th round draft pick) because, forgive me, but the scouting community kind of sucks at evaluating them.  Holtby was a 4th round pick, but he has future number 1 written all over him.

Weaknesses

Youth and inexperience are really Holtby’s biggest weaknesses.  He is still prone to the rookie mistake or not really gauging the incoming play correctly.  He is a competent but not particularly strong puck handler, which isn’t a huge deal, but with the Rangers dump and chase style, it could potentially be exploited.

One other problem Holtby has had since joining the Caps has been rebound control.  This is a skill that comes with experience and adjustment to the speed of a new level.  Everything happens a little faster in the show and there have been times where Holtby hasn’t handled rebounds cleanly (see Seguin’s goal in Game 7).

How the Rangers should approach the matchup

Holtby has one career game against the Rangers and it came back on April 7th, a contest the Caps won 4-1.  It was one of the few stinkers put up this season by The King, and Holtby was very strong, stopping 35 of the 36 shots he faced.

Because of the overall balance of Holtby’s style, it makes sense just to get pucks to the net.  With his somewhat shaky rebound control and suspect puck handling, it could be the Rangers best chance for success.  Unlike Craig Anderson, it won’t necessarily be a strategical advantage to try and stretch Holtby out east/west, considering how strong he moves laterally.  Trying to create traffic in front and fighting for rebound chances are definitely the way to go.

The Rangers are going to have their hands full with the red hot Braden Holtby in this series, but if they can make his life miserable in traffic and make him pay for not controlling the puck, they could force him out of his comfort zone and be able to maximize their goaltending advantage.

18 Responses to “Opponent’s scouting report: Braden Holtby”

  1. Walt says:

    As mentioned by me in the past, Holtby , after watching him play in Hershey, is suspect in net.

    A tid bit of useless information, before the last Caps series, Holtby never won any series he played in. Not in juniors, or the AHL Hershey Bears.

    I believe that if we keep the Caps from scoring, and we get timely goals, we win! Now that was brilliant? What I mean is this team is beatable, and Hank will be the difference again!!!

    • Justin says:

      ‘cmon Walt, give the kid some credit. He played junior in the offense heavy WHL and only once since his debut in 05-06 has he had a save percentage under .900 (at any level). He may not have played well when you saw him in Hersey, but he has performed consistently at every level he has played and I see a kid who is starting to put it all together at the highest level. All the physical and mental tools are there, from here its just execution.

      • Walt says:

        I’m not saying the kid isn’t good, and or that he hasn’t improved at all, but the last series is the only one that he came out on top! That was not meant to be a put down, just food for thought!

        Lets face it, Thomas didn’t have a great series, and let some El Cheapos in some of the games that went into OT.

        I never take any goalie lightly, but don’t put this kid on a pedestal!!!!!

  2. Tim says:

    He’s pretty good. Any chance he’ll be the starter next year?

    • Justin says:

      Tim, considering the lack of a cemented number 1 ahead of him (Vokoun is gone and Neuvirth has failed to entrench himself), I would be shocked if he didn’t at least open next season as the starter.e

    • Justin says:

      Tim, considering the lack of a cemented number 1 ahead of him (Vokoun is gone and Neuvirth has failed to entrench himself), I would be shocked if he didn’t at least open next season as the starter.

  3. Walt says:

    No, probably #2

  4. John says:

    I saw Braden Holtby play in Hershey and he killed it. If anyone thinks this kids is a fluke they’re on drugs. He will be a Stanley Cup Champ sooner than later. But, hopefully not this year, since I’m a Ranger fan.

  5. Rangers in my blood says:

    A couple of timely bumps ( even if it’s a penalty) could shake up his mental game. It happens to inexperienced goalies sometimes. Although I agree with the prevailing opinion that this kid looks like he is heading in the right direction. We need a Ton of confusion in front of him to make him scramble a bit. GO RANGERS!!!

  6. Blueshirt in Paris says:

    Great post as usual, I really enjoy these.

  7. rangersalterego says:

    Nice read. Looks like his biggest weakness might be his ability to focus when the SOG count is low

    • Justin says:

      That becomes an issue for most goalies. The 40 save games get all the headlines, but at least you are in a rhythm and feeling the puck on a consistent basis. The 20 shot games are more mentally difficult and can cause serious issues for goalies used to a higher workload. Holtby’s inexperience with this type of game might become an interesting storyline.

  8. Rich a says:

    I think yor evaluation of him is spot on. He will definitely be a future starter. He has all the right tools, he is just young and needs more experience. Too bad, this series is going to be a bad experience, and will shatter his confidence. Lets go Rangers.

    • Justin says:

      Thanks Rich. I’m hoping along with everyone else that this series is a serious growing pain for Holtby, but he will be making our lives difficult in Washington for years to come.