ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) When Martin Brodeur broke the NHL’s single-season wins mark in 2006-07, the New Jersey Devils goaltender was honored that previous record holder Bernie Parent was in attendance. The Hall of Famer sent him a note, and Brodeur had him autograph a replica mask that’s still displayed in his home.
Nine years later, Brodeur is watching closely as Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby approaches his record. With four games left, Holtby has 47 wins, one shy of Brodeur.
“It’s really tough to do, so if he achieves it, I’ll be happy for him,” Brodeur said. “It’ll be quite an accomplishment.”
It’s even more of an accomplishment considering the variety of factors that have to go right to achieve it. Goalies who have come close to matching Brodeur’s mark all say that workload, team success and consistency are necessary ingredients to win even 40-games in a season, let alone 48 or more.
“You need to play a lot of games, you need to be on a good team and you’ve got to perform,” said Brodeur, now assistant general manager of the St. Louis Blues. “And he’s checking all the boxes.”
Holtby can tie the record Tuesday against the New York Islanders and break it Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins or Saturday at St. Louis, when Brodeur may be at the game.
Brodeur played 78 games during his record-breaking season, Parent played 73 for the Stanley Cup-champion Flyers in 1973-74 and Roberto Luongo played 76 when he reached 47 wins with the Vancouver Canucks in 2006-07. Holtby has gotten to this point with impressive efficiency, playing in just 63.
The Alex Ovechkin-led offense is important to the Capitals’ success, but so is Holtby, a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy with a 2.17 goals-against average (fourth best in the league) and a .923 save percentage (seventh in the league). Holtby’s doing it in just his third full 82-game NHL season at the age of 26.
“It’s time to stop referring to him as a young goalie,” said Luongo, now the Florida Panthers’ starter. “He’s here and he’s one of the best in the league. I’ve always thought that he was a great goalie, but obviously this year he’s taken it to another level.”
Even though his workload pales in comparison to Brodeur’s, Parent’s or Luongo’s, Holtby has played the third-most games of any goalie this season, which is how he wants it.
“I find rest harder to play through,” Holtby said. “It’s easy to tell your mind that your legs are sore, and you just have to push a little harder. It’s a little harder when you’re not seeing the puck well and you’re trying to tell yourself to react quicker.”
Holtby has seen the puck well most of the season, partially a product of stronger team defense under coach Barry Trotz than the Capitals had during much of the past decade.
“He’s been their backbone for quite a bit,” said retired goaltender Evgeny Nabokov, who won 46 games for the San Jose Sharks in 2007-08. “When the team got a little bit better defensively, I think now he’s at the spot where he can win close to 50 games. It’s been coming. It’s not like he came from nowhere.”
Picked in the fourth round in 2008, Holtby made his NHL debut in 2010 and was thrust into playoff duty by injuries in 2012. Now, he has become one of the best in the league.
The Lloyminster, Saskatchewan, native has consistently pointed to wins as the barometer he wants to be judged on. Unlike save percentage and goals against, wins are a team measurement, and Trotz said if Holtby breaks the record it’s something the Capitals can be proud of.
“Your goal as an athlete, as a member of a team sport, is to help the team in any way possible,” Holtby said. “Obviously statistics is one thing that you want to make sure are up. The main thing is you’re not looking like a weak link on a team and creating a distraction that way. But the biggest thing is just creating a win somehow – making the saves at the right times.”
Brodeur, who made enough timely saves to win three Cups, sees a little of himself in Holtby and hopes he can congratulate him on a new NHL record this week.
Holtby is “a goalie that loves to play the game,” Brodeur said. “He plays hard. He’s really athletic, he’s a big guy. I just like the way he plays the game. It’s been fun watching his run.”