Caps’ Holtby discusses fatigue before return

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Tampa Bay Lightning goalie (and Vezina hopeful) Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t the only netminder who’s acknowledging being tired, at least to some extent.

Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals’ frequent workhorse, admitted as much while praising the recent work of upstart backup Philipp Grubauer, as NBC Sports Washington’s JJ Regan reports.

To be more specific, Holtby admits to some mental fatigue, rather than being tired physically:

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” Holtby said. “If you’re fatigued physically, that’s on you. That’s not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up.”

Since 2014-15, Holtby leads the NHL in wins (160), games played (250), and saves (6,442) during the regular season. Only Pekka Rinne (42) has played in more postseason games than Holtby (38) during that same stretch of time.

Considering that workload – not to mention how mentally draining it must have been to win two straight Presidents’ Trophies with the Capitals, only to fall in the second round against the Penguins two years in a row – the hockey world probably should have seen all of this coming.

If you want a convenient view of Holtby’s slippage, consider his numbers before and after the All-Star break, via Hockey Reference:

Before: 25-9-2, 2.66 GAA, .917 save percentage
After: 4-6-2, 4.31 GAA, .875 save percentage

On March 7, PHT recommended that the Capitals really give Grubauer a chance, at least for much of the playoff push (and maybe even the playoffs). The suggestion wasn’t meant to degrade Holtby; instead, the goal would be to rejuvenate the workhorse goalie while also seeing how far Grubauer might take them, considering that the young netminder is hoping to earn a new contract as an RFA.

A day later, former NHL goalie Brent Johnson put up a detailed analysis of Holtby’s fatigue, and how goalies handle and hide fatigue in general, in a thread on Twitter. Johnson began with a salient point: now, more than ever, the game of hockey is played at an incredible pace. Such a speedy game makes things more taxing for a goalie, who must keep track of the puck at all times. Asking a goalie to be a workhorse now is maybe an unrealistic demand.

Johnson added that goalies will rarely share that they’re tired with the media or coaches. Some of that might come down to the culture of the sport – “hockey tough” – and other factors, possibly in some cases related to job security. Such a sentiment makes it so refreshing to see Vasilevskiy and Holtby acknowledge the obvious.

Johnson also stated that Grubauer carrying more of a workload would actually help Holtby, and that seems to be a sentiment that the Capitals goalie also shares. As Regan reports, Holtby said that Grubauer’s “held our team together” and “that takes a lot of pressure off the rest of us.”

The nice thing for the Capitals is that they’ve been able to monitor this issue in March, rather than when the playoffs kick off in April.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

This doesn’t just serve as a warning and a lesson for Barry Trotz and the rest of the Capitals organization. It should also serve notice to the rest of the NHL that it’s foolish to ignore the warnings that come from sports science, sports psychologists, and others who warn against wearing out athletes.

Honestly, it should really be common sense.

You can be a “tough team” and still take measures to keep your most important players rested. After all, it’s easier to get over the hump/go the extra mile/run through that brick wall if you have more energy, right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.