With the NHL season inching closer, many players are now getting their minds and bodies into game shape, especially those who did not play on a team overseas.
For goaltenders, being in game shape is extremely important. A netminder needs to be able to catch up to the speed of the game, read the shooters and do everything he can to make sure that his body is ready for the vigors of NHL hockey.
This is especially true for young netminders that have not been in the league that long.
One such masked man that is young, has some NHL experience and has managed to stay in game shape during the lockout is 23-year-old Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
Holtby really burst onto the NHL scene in last year’s playoffs despite playing in a few games during the 2010-11 season.
In 14 postseason games, Holtby went 7-7, had a terrific goals-against average of 1.95, and a stellar save percentage of .935, all done as a 22-year-old experiencing his first playoff run.
Holtby built off his strong stretch last season and turned it into a successful 25-game stint during the NHL lockout with the Capitals’ farm team in the American Hockey League (AHL). In those 25 games, Holtby posted impressive numbers with a 2.14 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and four shutouts.
Despite gaining a lot of NHL experience last year, when he first went down to the AHL back in October, Holtby’s approach to the game never changed, despite the fact that it was a step just below the NHL.
Holtby was especially good leading up to this month as he went 5-4-1 with a miniscule 1.69 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and picked up three shutouts.
New Capitals’ head coach, Adam Oates has high expectations for the team’s netminders going into the shortened season as both of them have managed to get playing time whether it is overseas or in the AHL.
“Obviously, they’re going to be in game shape, so that has to be a good thing,” Capitals coach Adam Oates told a local newspaper. “I don’t think there’s any perfect formula, but the fact both of those guys have been playing is good.”
The pressure will now be on Holtby as he looks to build off the success he had last season and become a more complete NHL goaltender.
With the way he played in last year’s playoffs and how well he performed in his stint with the Bears during the lockout, Holtby might just be well on his way to making that happen.