In today’s goalie news, we’ll talk about a general manager backing his netminder. Plus, we’ll revisit an incredibly historic night in the career of a journeyman goaltender.
MacLellan Backs Holtby
With the trade deadline fast approaching, any player at the end of his contract is sure to be the subject of some speculation, especially if he has a young, up-and-coming potential replacement breathing down his neck. Such is the case for Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. With his contract up at the end of the year, and Ilya Samsonov getting more and more starts, there is no shortage of questions about the situation between the pipes in America’s capital city.
Compounding issues is the reality that Holtby’s performance this year has been less than stellar. His record is fine at 18-7-4, but his underlying numbers are weak: a save percentage (SV%) of .902, a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.99, and minus-5.48 goals saved above average (GSAA). Meanwhile, Samsonov entered Wednesday with an outstanding 12-2-1 record, a .921 SV%, a 2.24 GAA, and 5.86 GSAA.
Most view Samsonov as the future of not only the Capitals’ net but also one of the future goaltending stars of the NHL. Holtby has just months remaining on his contract and will turn 31 before next season. It’s no surprise that people are asking questions. But general manager Brian MacLellan isn’t having it. He appeared on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon to voice his support for his veteran goalie.
Holtby’s our guy. I mean, he’s got a Cup, he has a history, he’s been a huge part of our organization. He’s our No. 1 guy. I think what we’ve been trying to do is develop Samsonov and he’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him very well. He’s continually gotten better, he works at his game, he’s calm under pressure. Our team’s about Holtby but we’re developing Samsonov and trying to do what’s best for both guys and hopefully they’re both healthy and we can use both down the stretch and into the (Stanley Cup) playoffs.Capitals’ GM Brian MacLellan
It doesn’t get a lot more explicit than that. The Capitals will have to make a decision eventually, and the questions won’t evaporate entirely. Anyone who monitored the Peter Laviolette firing knows that general managers can change their tune in the blink of an eye. But for now, it sounds like Holtby is the number one in the Capitals’ crease.
Boucher Joins the History Books
Brian Boucher had a perfectly respectable NHL career. After the Philadelphia Flyers drafted him in the first round in 1995, he played in 328 games with the Flyers, the Phoenix Coyotes, and the San Jose Sharks with brief stops for four other teams. He was the definition of a journeyman: just good enough to plug in when your starter needs rest, but never good enough to trust for very long. But for 10 days in the 2003-04 season, he was the greatest goaltender who ever lived.
On Dec. 31, 2003, Boucher got a spot start in place of Sean Burke. Ironically wearing a mask designed to resemble a brick wall, the then Arizona Coyotes backup became one, stopping all 21 Los Angeles Kings shots he faced that night. Head coach Bobby Francis honored tradition and gave Boucher the next start, and he rewarded his coach’s faith with 35 saves against the Dallas Stars, good for his second consecutive shutout.
Boucher would go onto a third shutout (26 saves against the Carolina Hurricanes) and a fourth (27 saves against the Washington Capitals). He took the net again on this date in 2004 with a chance at history. Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens had once made four consecutive shutouts in 1949, but no one had ever sealed a fifth. Until the clocked tick down to zero on this night 17 years ago. Boucher’s final shutout was a mirror of his first: 21 saves, this time against the Minnesota Wild.
Boucher’s incredible streak ended in the first period of the next game at a remarkable 332:01. He would never again reach that level of dominance, and would in fact grab just two wins in his final 22 games to close that season. But he remains the only goalie ever to collect five consecutive shutouts, and likely will for a long, long time. After retiring, Boucher became a commentator and has since become the primary bench analyst of NBC’s American broadcast.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.