Thibault: No controversy in sight in Washington
The Quebec Nordiques’ first-round pick in the 1993 NHL Draft, Jocelyn Thibault played 586 games during his 15-season NHL career. He wore the uniforms of the Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabers, recording 238 victories. He coached the Colorado Avalanche goaltenders for two seasons and is now the owner and general manager of the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL. He has agreed to work with the NHL.com team to deal with hot issues in front of the league’s 31 goals.
Goals have been coming from everywhere since the start of the season. This is good news for amateurs and players who fatten their stats, but it is a little less so for goalkeepers who unfortunately have to pay the price.
One of those is Braden Holtby. He scored a win in his first game, but his four subsequent starts have been very difficult – especially last Monday when he allowed the Colorado Avalanche three goals on three shots before being pulled out of the game. The 30-year-old veteran has a 3.83 goals against average and .862 save rate.
I can’t say that all the goals he has allowed are bad goals, but he still seems to lack dynamism in his game. I find him rather passive in terms of his positioning and reaction time. In his good times, he fights more than that.
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In this sense, the reaction of coach Todd Reirden to give the promising youngster a start Ilya Samsonov is completely understandable. The Russian goalkeeper has won the first three starts of his career and is posting a 1.84 goals against average and .933 save rate. With parity, every point is important and teams no longer have time to wait after a lethargy goalkeeper. The impact of the goalkeeper is so great that his performances have an impact on the ranking.
Right now Samsonov is doing very well and you have to remember he’s a first-round pick for the organization in 2015. The Capitals just want to take advantage of the fittest goalie right now. When the coach has a happy hand, he has to use it and that is what he does.
But I don’t see any further than that for the moment. I have no doubts that Holtby will bounce back. I don’t know him personally, but he’s definitely a competitor. And as an established guard, he sure does not want his post removed. I’m sure he’s not the happiest around, but he has to act like a good veteran. It’s not the rookie’s fault that he’s successful.
What adds a bit of spice to this waltz in front of the Capitals net is the contractual situation of Holtby, who becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Will the organization want to give him a big contract knowing that Samsonov will become the No. 1 goalie within a few seasons?
GM Brian MacLellan has to try to make a projection as to when the youngster is going to be ready to take on the No. 1 responsibilities. If he thinks he’s ready, the answer is easy. If not, he must wonder if he is able to retain Holtby’s services in the short or medium term to mentor Samsonov until he is ready. Because he has to make sure he has a quality veteran.
It’s a big decision. Samsonov will cost a lot less, but you have to make sure he’s ready – even if there’s no certainty in hockey – before cutting ties with Holtby, whether through a trade or leaving him s ‘hear with another team.
Video: COL @ WSH: Samsonov stretches the pad in front of Kadri
It makes me think a lot about the situation of Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay a few years ago. The young Russian started his career in 2014-15, months after the Lightning granted Bishop a short two-year extension. The veteran was ultimately traded to the Los Angeles Kings on the last trade deadline before his contract expired as Vasilevskiy was ready to take over.
Will the Capitals have enough confidence in Samsonov to make such a decision this season? Seems pretty hasty to me.
A step back
Reirden’s decision not to send his veteran back into the fray against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday was the right one. After a game where he gave up three goals in as many shots, confidence can be shaken a bit.
The challenge is precisely to try to keep it intact. In these moments, you really have to stick to objective elements. You have to go back to the drawing board with the goalkeeper coach and be able to analyze your game very coldly. It’s like when golf doesn’t work; Is it your lack of momentum, your starting position or your weight transfer?
By sending the auxiliary into the net, Holtby took advantage of three days to work on his game with his coach in quality practices. Often it is not complicated. The difference between a goal and a save is so slim that sometimes one or two small technical improvements can make a difference.
Video: WSH @ NSH: Holtby frustrates Duchene on the stomach
Goalies who are struggling often tend to play a little too deep in their net or cheat, much like players who are in the midst of a famine. The first step is to analyze his game and understand what he is doing wrong before applying it in training, and then in matches.
Holtby is not alone in this situation. Jonathan quick, Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, Frederik Andersen, all seasoned veterans, have efficiency rates below .900 at the start of the season. It is still too early to spot a trend and I am sure they will recover.
If this is still the case in two months, we can start talking about it.