It goes without saying that Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby played extremely below his skill level in Game 2 of the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins. So much so, that Head Coach Barry Trotz gave the Vezina Trophy winner the surprising hook early in the game. Some would say this was a poor act of judgement, but Trotz was bold in his decision to pull him.
“I thought that we just had to change sort of the mojo in that situation,” Trotz explained. “[Holtby] will tell you he can be better. He’s a straight up guy, and he will be [better]. I thought that in some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be. He’s a game changer for us.”
Holtby was pulled after allowing three goals on 14 shots within the first two periods. The first uncharacteristic goal was tallied just inside the first two minutes of the second frame by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cullen. The 40-year-old somehow beat the Capitals defense on a breakaway and slipped in the puck shorthanded.
However, the next two goal’s Holtby let in were pretty bad and not the fault of the Washington defense. This seemed to seal the deal for Trotz, as the netminder was pulled before the third period even started. Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel, both off beautiful feeds by Sidney Crosby, beat Holtby to his glove side — a place you shouldn’t allow too much room when up against skillful scorers like the Pens top forward lines.
Braden Holtby getting pulled in Game 2 was a gift to Pittsburgh, but in Game 3, it might turn out to be the team’s worst nightmare. Holtby’s angry. The images of him sitting on the bench after he got pulled show a facial expression you’d find in a man scorned not only once, but many times in his life.
In the matchups he started after he was pulled this season, Holtby notched back-to-back shutouts once and boasted an eight-game winning streak in another. This time shouldn’t be much different. In a series where the reigning Vezina Trophy winner should be dominating, he’s instead being outshined by his veteran opponent Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s itching to get back into the crease and prove just how good he is.
“I don’t look too much at patterns; I look at the day,” Holtby said when asked about how he feels coming into Game 3 after playing poorly Saturday night. “I look at today as an opportunity to play more of my game, get back to my basics, and help this team.”
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh will end up being the victims of a guy ready to re-establish himself as the best goalie in the league. As Holtby looks to stand tall in net tonight, the Penguins will have to continue executing high-percentage shots off breakaways behind the Caps defense — otherwise Game 3 might turn out to be ugly. This is the Stanley Cup Playoffs; don’t expect Holtby to let easy wristers past his short side again.