As the playoffs are coming up very shortly, the biggest question for the Washington Capitals will be goaltending.
The Capitals have one of the best starting goaltenders in the NHL in Braden Holtby. There is no denying that Holtby is a top 10 NHL goaltender. He’s taken home the Vezina Trophy and he’s appeared in four NHL All Star Games. Plus, he has a career goals against average (GAA) of 2.47, a career save percentage (SV%) of .918 and a career quality start percentage of .593.
Capitals fans have no reason to doubt Holtby’s abilities in the playoffs. Without Holtby, the Capitals likely wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup. But, let’s keep in mind that Washington has relied on a tandem in the playoffs. Over the years, the Capitals have utilized multiple goaltenders in each playoff run. A while back, they relied on a tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. And the Capitals did the same last year, when they utilized both Holtby and Phillipp Grubauer in the playoffs.
Copley Is Now The Backup
But, Grubauer is no longer in Washington and the Capitals backup goaltender is Pheonix Copley. Copley has faced solid competition this season and is battled tested. He’s appeared in 25 games this season and has faced teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, the Nashville Predators, the Calgary Flames, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Montréal Canadiens, the Winnipeg Jets and other squads. Over the course of his 25 games played, he’s posted a 2.88 GAA, a .906 SV% and one shut-out.
Below, you’ll see a 2018-2019 shot map for Copley. Given the shots that Copley faced, he owned an expected goal (xG) number of 66.64. In addition, his expected goals per game (xG faced/gm) was 2.666. If you compare his xG faced/gm to other backup goaltenders including Aaron Dell (2.365), Alex Stalock (1.979), Casey DeSmith (2.471), Garret Sparks (2.361), James Reimer (2.223) and Malcolm Subban (2.384), he owns a higher xG faced/gm than all of those backups.
visual from Sean Tierney, data from moneypuck.com
There Is Concern
That is concerning. I’m an honest guy and I don’t like to cut around the chase. There is nothing pretty about that. The competition in the playoffs will be fierce.
In Dom Luszczyszyn’s new post on The Athletic, 2018-19 NHL Playoff Chances And Standings Projections (Updated Daily), he shares that the Capitals have a 35% chance of taking on the New York Islanders, a 34% chance of taking on the Carolina Hurricanes and an 11% chance of taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
If you look at those three teams, each team varies in terms of goals/games played (G/GP). The Penguins average 3.4 G/GP, the Hurricanes average 2.9 G/GP and the Islanders average 2.7 G/GP. The Penguins G/GP is pretty high, while the Hurricanes G/GP and the Islanders G/GP isn’t so high, but is mediocre.
The challenge is that many of the clubs that Copley faced this season average low G/GP including the Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and the New Jersey Devils. With Copley facing weaker competition and registering a high xG faced/gm, it’s incredibly difficult for Capitals fans to trust him in net during the playoffs when the competition is harder and tougher.
All-in-all, the Capitals will need to rely on Holtby as much as possible. There is a lot of risk in putting Copley in net and the Capitals will likely struggle with him in net during the playoffs.
stats from foxsports.com, moneypuck.com, NHL.com and hockey-reference.com
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler