Holtby’s Early Tenure with the Canucks

By: Trent Leith / February 19, 2021  

No one knew what to expect out of the Canucks goaltending without Jacob Markstrom in the net this year. But it’s safe to say that what the team has gotten in the net so far, is still leaving much to be desired. Braden Holtby’s early tenure with the Canucks has been less than ideal for all parties involved. Holtby has never experienced a regulation losing streak in the NHL as long as the one the Canucks just snapped, according to Sportsnet. Holtby is also having a worse season than his last, just strictly looking at the numbers and last season was the worst of his career.

Holtby’s Play So Far

Holtby has put up only a .896 sv% so far this season, even accounting for Wednesday night’s game where he stopped 36 of 37 shots. His goals-against average is a whopping 3.44, which is 10th worst among goalies who have played more than 5 games this year. 

However, these poor numbers are not entirely his fault. The Canucks as a team are 23rd in the league based on Corsi, and 27th based on expected goals against according to Hockey-Reference. You can’t entirely blame the goaltender for poor numbers when the team in front of them is playing atrocious defence. The Canucks have allowed the 4th most high danger chances in the league, so what’s a guy to do? Be Markstrom? 

Holtby’s Play Moving Forwards

I asked David Quadrelli of Canucksarmy and The Canucks Coversation what he thinks about Holtby’s play so far, and he had this to say,

I think he’s played a solid game. He’s quickly picked up on the things Ian Clark has been working with him on and I think we’ve already seen the worst of Braden Holtby in a Canuck uniform. He played in the worst defensive environment last year in Washington, and then to start the year, the Canucks weren’t giving him much help either. That becomes an even worse situation when you’re implementing new things into your game, because when you lose or fall behind, you may start to panic and go back to what you did before, not really trusting the process, if you will. Now that the team is playing with more structure and playing a cleaner game, I think you’ll see the results start to be there for Holtby.

David hit the nail on the head, the worst of Holtby as a Canuck is behind him, and that is partly due to the Canucks starting to find their footing. The team started to show better performances in Toronto and since then, the Canucks have been playing more like they were expected to this season. The team is finally starting to click in all the right places, including in the crease. 

Holtby as a Teammate

The Canucks fanbase and media were looking for changes to be made either on or off the ice, after such a bad start to the season. But as we previously covered, likely the most realistic and appropriate thing to do, was to do nothing at all, with such a strange shortened season and options limited. The players were simply left in a room with a large chunk of their previous leadership core playing in Calgary, and it seemed from the outside looking in, that no one had stepped up to fill that void. That was until the February 6th game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Holtby was not happy at all with J.T. Miller’s defensive efforts on one particular play. He gave a death start to Miller that might even have had Elias Pettersson trembling. While we don’t quite know what was said, Holtby had some choice words for Miller throughout the rest of the game as well. 

Post-game Travis Green said that there was nothing wrong with players holding each other accountable, and both Miller and Holtby agreed with the coach. Neither player would tell the media what was said exactly, but it was clear both players were happy to leave it on the ice.. 

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with guys trying to make other players accountable

Travis Green continued in the post game media availabilities,

That’s part of leadership. When you’re going through frustrating times, that happens once in a while. I’ve been on lots of teams where you can fight, you can get in arguments… but they’re all in it for the same thing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that once in a while.

Since that point, the Canucks have played their most consistent brand of hockey this year. The Canucks took 5 of a possible 10 points since Holtby’s frustration on the ice, and it’s fair to say with a little luck, they could have taken at least a couple more points from the stretch. 

A group like the one the Canucks have is clearly talented, as evident by the potential we all saw in the playoffs. So when a slump like what we’ve seen happens, it’s best to let the team breathe and see what shakes out. In this case, it seems like the Stanley Cup and Vezina winning goaltender holding his team accountable could have set off a chain of events that lead to the team’s mentality and focus shifting for the better. If you are going to pay a declining goaltender $4.3M, you sure hope he brings some leadership, and it looks like he might be holding up his end of the bargain in that respect.

Now, when do we start panicking about his importance to the team in regards to the expansion draft this summer?