Braden Holtby no longer NHL’s tough luck postseason loser

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The dominant storyline in the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup win is, obviously, centered around Alex Ovechkin finally kicking down the championship door and silencing whatever critics he had left.

It is understandable.

Ovechkin is one of the game’s greatest all-time players and finally has the final accomplishment so many felt he needed to complete his resume as one of the NHL’s best. No matter how many goals he scored in the regular season or playoffs, no matter how much he produced or how many highlights he created there was always going to be that person rattling the cage about how he hadn’t yet won the Stanley Cup, whether that was his fault or not.

Those days are now, officially, gone.

Related: Ovechkin overcame plenty of heartbreak to become Stanley Cup champion]

He is not the only long-time member of the Capitals’ core that was probably long overdue for postseason success, so let’s talk about starting goaltender Braden Holtby, statistically speaking one of the best performing postseason goalies in NHL history.

Holtby’s story is in some ways even more incredible than Ovechin’s because Holtby plays the one position in the sport where a great performance can single-handedly drive team success in the playoffs. For almost his entire postseason career Holtby has played at that level for the Capitals.

The numbers are sparking. In some cases incredible.

Going back to the start of the 1960 playoffs Holtby’s .929 career postseason save percentage is the third best all-time (minimum 40 playoff games played), trailing only Tim Thomas’ .932 mark and Johnny Brower’s .931.

Until this season Holtby was the only goalie in the top-10 of that list, and one of only three in the top-25 (Curtis Joseph and Carey Price being the other two) that had never played in a Stanley Cup Final.

Fourteen of the top-25 had won at least one Stanley Cup.

Until this season, Holtby had not only never won a cup or been to the Final, he had never been out of the second round, a baffling fact considering how consistently great he has performed.

First, just look at his series-by-series performance since arriving in the NHL in 2012. Just look at the save percentages, particularly the ones in the loss column.

In only one postseason series in his career has he finished with a save percentage lower than .916. In only three of them has he been below .920, and oddly enough two of them were his past two series wins against Tampa Bay and Vegas this season. And even in that Tampa Bay series he pitched back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 with his team facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the five series before this season that Holtby and the capitals had lost he had a combined save percentage of .924, and that includes the .887 clunker against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017. Those five series accounted for 34 games. Among active goalies that have appeared in at least 34 playoff games only four of them have a save percentage better than .924 (and yes, Holtby is one of them).

Again, those are his performances in the series that he lost.

It defies logic, and in a lot of ways Holtby, more than any other player on the Capitals (Ovechkin included), illustrates the team’s postseason frustrations prior to this season.

When you get that level of goaltending you are supposed to win. Or at least get closer to winning than the Capitals did. And it’s not just the overall series performances and results that were baffling. It was the individual games, including some of the potential knockout games and elimination games.

Prior to this season Holtby was on the losing end of four postseason games where he allowed just one goal. The only other active goalie that has lost that many is Henrik Lundqvist, who has lost four … in 128 career playoff games. Holtby has only played in 82.

In three of the five games where he was eliminated he allowed only two goals. One of the two games where he allowed more, a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers where he surrendered five goals, came after he lost one of those aforementioned one-goal games in a potential knockout game in Game 6 of the series. In two of those elimination games his team was shutout. In another they scored just one goal.

Holtby was already one of the best goalies of his era. He has a Vezina Trophy and another year as the runner-up. He has a Jennings Trophy. He has numbers in both the regular season and playoffs that stack up with, or just flat out exceed, any of his peers.

But just like Ovechkin until he finally got his name on the Stanley Cup there was always going to be that crowd that completely disregarded it because they foolishly believed he couldn’t do it when it mattered most, ignoring the confluence of events independent of any one player that need to perfectly align for a team to win a championship.

It all finally happened this year, and after years of dominant play and tough-luck losses he too finally has the last accomplishment his resume was missing.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.