2017 Playoff Preview: Braden Holtby vs Frederik Andersen
The Toronto Maple Leafs thwarted many pre-season predictions by qualifying for the playoffs so quickly after beginning their rebuild. The play of Frederik Andersen was a huge part of it, and they will certainly rely on him as they head into Washington as huge underdogs.
Braden Holtby could potentially win another Vezina Trophy this year, so it was business as usual for the Capitals netminder in 2016-17. The Caps are loaded up for a cup run, but Holtby will still need to be at the top of his game if they want to capture that elusive Stanley Cup.
The Capitals are an explosive offensive team, but still rely on their goaltending a fair amount. Of all goalies that played 1,000 minutes or more this season, Holtby’s 5v5 save percentage ranked 4th at .937. It’s not fair to say that because he plays on a strong team, he was sheltered – because the numbers prove that was not the case.
The debate about whether “clutch” play exists is still out there – but Holtby has proven that he can carry a team in the playoffs. His .937 SV% in 46 career playoff games back that fact up. For the Leafs, matching the scoring output of Alexander Ovechkin and Co. will be an incredible task already. Beating Holtby may prove to be too much to overcome.
This year is the biggest window of opportunity that the Capitals have had to win their first Cup. All of the pieces are in place to go on a major run at Lord Stanley. As we know, goaltending can make or break a playoff run – so Holtby will need to be at the top of his game. No pressure.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs began their massive rebuild, few could have predicted that they would make it back to the playoffs so quickly. With Auston Matthews and the rest of their group of young talent, they greatly exceeded expectations in 2016-17. Acquiring goaltender Frederik Andersen was the other major step that got them into the dance. His calming influence and consistent play has been an excellent addition to their team. A handful of minor injuries down the stretch is quite worrisome if the Leafs want to go on an extended run.
The Leafs present an interesting challenge for the Capitals. Nobody expected them to be here, so they are essentially playing with house money. Any wins acquired beyond this point are bonus. Mike Babcock will certainly have a plan to take down the high-flying Capitals, and it all begins with insulating Andersen in net.
You can certainly expect that Ovechkin will be a major target for the Leafs, but the Capitals have plenty of other offensive weapons. Babcock likes his goaltenders to play an aggressive front-door style. Not having them worry about the back-door option is the key to success for a lot of goaltenders that play in his system. Will the Leafs be able to take away that back-door option and present peace of mind for Andersen? That remains to be seen.