I mean the title says it all, right? Barry Trotz is the luckiest man in the NHL. Here’s why.
After two consecutive President’s Trophy winning teams, the Washington Capitals entered the 2017-18 season at a crossroad. They had been the most dominant team in the sport two years running. The 2016-17 edition of the Capitals may have been a top 5 and certainly top 10 team in the history of the NHL. But still, this is a franchise that hasn’t made it to the conference finals in the Alex Ovechkin era.
No team was more negatively impacted by the NHL’s asinine decision to realign their playoff structure than the Washington Capitals. Under the old format, the Capitals easily cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals each of the past two years. But as the 1 seed, the Caps got rewarded with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semifinals in back to back years. What a slap in the face. The current version of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are an absolute freakin freight train. Sorry not sorry Washington.
There was talk of blowing the whole thing up. Talk of trading Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom. People were talking crazy down in DC. And with good reason. Despite winning the Metropolitan division with 105 points this year, there were long stretches of the season where the Capitals looked listless. Like they didn’t care. Like they collectively thought “what the hell is the point? Pittsburgh is gonna smoke us in the second round anyway”.
Chief among those listless players was goalie Braden Holtby.
Holtby was a runaway Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goalie in 2015-16. He finished a close second in 2016-17. This year? He stunk for long stretches of the season. Holtby had a career low save percentage and a career high goals against average. Not a banner year for one of the best goalies on the planet.
Emboldened by back to back “choke” jobs, and a down year for his superstar goalie, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz made a bold move. He benched Braden Holtby. Backup Phillipp Grubauer (who had a sparkling year, albeit in just 26 starts) would start game 1 of the playoffs.
After 2 periods in game 2, the Capitals were down 1-0 in the series, and down 4-3 in the game. They had just blown a 3-1 lead. Philipp Grubauer had a .837 save percentage and a 4.57 goals against average. It’s okay if you just threw up in your mouth a little bit, I did too.
Talk about your all time backfires. Barry Trotz made a ballsy play, and it sure as hell didn’t work out. The Capitals went on to lose game 2, but they dominated the 3rd period. They easily could have won that game. The whole series turned when Braden Holtby returned to the Washington net.
The Capitals have looked fantastic in the two games since Holtby became the full time starter again. The series is now tied at 2 games apiece. Grubauer is a fantastic young goalie. This was not his time. This is Braden Holtby’s team, and the guys in the Caps dressing room are Braden Holtby’s guys.
I know you’ve been waiting for this moment, but here’s the real reason Barry Trotz is the luckiest man in the NHL:
Alex Ovechkin has been an NHL superstar since his rookie year in 2005-2006. He has never made a conference finals appearance. He’s had 5 head coaches. And he’s the captain of the Washington Capitals. As he goes, the team goes. Burdened with years of playoff disappointments and letdowns, and now forced to overcome an 0-2 due to a massive mistake by the head coach, Ovechkin and the Capitals could have easily quit. Quit on the season, quit on their coach, quit on each other.
People underestimate the strength of an NHL dressing room all the time. These guys go to war for each other on a nightly basis. The bond that they form with each other is magnified and intensified during the playoffs. I have no idea if Barry Trotz knew how strong his dressing room was when he made the initial decision to make a goalie change. He knows now. We all know now. The Washington Capitals fucking love Braden Holtby.
-Brian Borders (@bborders12)