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2016 Playoff Preview: Braden Holtby vs. Steve Mason

2016 Playoff Preview: Braden Holtby vs. Steve Mason

Although Braden Holtby will receive most of the attention, this series boasts possibly the strongest goaltending matchup in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Steve Mason and the underdog Philadelphia Flyers will look to knock off the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.

Braden Holtby

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I’ll admit it; while this series offers two of my favorite goaltenders across the NHL, Holtby has the potential to be a Lundqvist-esque force for the Capitals this year.

One of the best tracking goaltenders in the entire league, Holtby is coming off a career year – and at 26, there’s the potential to see him only get better. He’s one of the smartest netminders in the NHL (at an already high-thinking position), and there isn’t much to his game that could be considered noticeably weak.

He’s still somewhat unproven in the postseason, but a regular season record of 48-9-5 speaks for itself. The Washington Capitals boast underrated depth in their lineup, which will help their starting netminder – but plenty of his success is very much his own.

He’s a weird goaltender to watch, almost rigid or stiff looking with some of his movements. At times, he can look downright robotic – but it’s a style that works for him, and you won’t often catch him surprised by the puck.

Barring a severe regression for Holtby in the first round, this year’s post-season is his for the taking.

Steve Mason

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As much as Braden Holtby is a force in net, one of the few Eastern Conference goaltenders who has the potential to be a legitimate threat to him is Steve Mason.

A hugely overlooked talent in net, Mason – much like Holtby – is currently proving his harshest critics wrong by putting up a second successful season following his fantastic 2014-15 campaign.

While his numbers over the entire year don’t look as good as Holtby’s, Mason has been a slow build this year – and a large portion of that could be due to his loss of goaltending coach Jeff Reese late last year. It was widely known that Mason and Reese had an extremely close working relationship, and trying to adjust to life without his trusted mentor may have shaken the Philadelphia netminder a bit heading into the season.

Mason himself attributed the bulk of his own improvements during his NHL career a few years back to moving from undersized gear to protection that fit him better, and his statistics since making the swap have been relatively consistent. He’s good at squaring to his shooters and relies on positioning as much as athleticism, giving this first round matchup a technical precision that few other match-ups will feature.

Look for Mason to remain more upright than Holtby for longer before making the drop, but don’t expect either goaltender to get caught misplaying an angle or consistently hurting themselves with depth decisions – something fans may be expecting to hear about Holtby, but that applies to the Flyers starter, as well.

The easy guess is that the advantage will go to Holtby, but Mason has been receptive to improvements in his game since arriving with Reese and into his 2015-16 campaign. If there was a goaltender fans may sleep on – but certainly shouldn’t – Steve Mason is it.

About The Author

Cat Silverman

Catherine is the first American in a long line of Canadians, making her the black sheep before she even decided she wasn't going to be a Leafs fan. Writer for Today's Slapshot, InGoal Magazine, and, coach in the Arizona Coyotes Department of Hockey Development. Goalies are not voodoo.

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