This is a conversation I had with my father near the beginning of the season opener:
Me: “Wait, why’s Braden Holtby starting tonight?”
Dad: “Who else would be the starter?”
(3 periods elapse)
Me: “Maybe they’re saving Neuvirth for the home opener?”
Frankly, I was confused by my dad’s credulity. Is it so obvious that Holtby is our starter? His fabulous playoff performance only happened because Neuvy and Vokoun got injured, not because he played his way inevitably into the position. He was decent but not stellar in the AHL (.906/2.61/40GP), and his NHL stats (.922/2.49/7GP) were too small a sample size to be relevant. Does Oates seriously think Holtby did well enough in the playoffs (.935/1.95/14GP) to be the presumptive starter? It’s both too small a sample size AND high enough that we must expect a regression to the mean. Holtby has never had a sv% of over .920 on a season in the AHL, behind a consistently skilled AHL team. How is that going to be sustainable in the NHL?
I suppose this is just one of the venerable Washington traditions — goaltender controversy. Unfortunately, in a 48-game season, we don’t have the luxury of lengthy observation or experimentation, and (you may have noticed this theme) the small sample size means who makes the playoffs has as much to do with unsustainable luck as with skill (much like actually winning in the playoffs). Sure, 2 games is hardly enough to draw conclusions. But would anyone be surprised if we didn’t make the playoffs at all?
It may not be fair to heap everything onto Holtby’s shoulders — right now Joel Ward is our number one goal scorer — but it’s over his head the red light comes on, and therefore he takes the lion’s share of the blame. 10 GA in 2 games might be a blip, but it’s one we can’t afford much more of.
On an unrelated note, I like to offer a warm Stars and Sticks welcome back to Thomas Emilio Poti! He hadn’t played a game since January of 2011 and he celebrated his return with an assist in the season opener, and with 0-1-1 he currently has the same stats as Alexander Ovechkin. Team Tom Poti 4ever!