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Caps GM McPhee on Holtby as playoff starter: “We have no choice”

Apr 9, 2012, 1:37 PM EDT

Braden Holtby

There were enough signs at Monday’s Capitals practice — Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun were absent, Dany Sabourin was recalled from AHL Hershey — to suggest that Braden Holtby will start in goal when Washington opens the playoffs on Thursday in Boston.

(Heck, the Globe and Mail all but reported it.)

To hear George McPhee explain it, Holtby will likely be the starter…by default.

“We have no choice,”McPhee told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “If the other guys aren’t ready to go, he’s playing.”

While that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, McPhee did say he has some faith in the 22-year-old.

“[Holtby] can handle it,” he said. “We’ve had other goalies do it that were at the same age or younger.”

But will Holtby handle it? Here’s more, from the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg:

Some believe Holtby has the talent, having gone 10-2-2 (including 7-0-1 against opponents who made the playoffs that year) last season with a 1.79 goals against average while posting a 0.934 save percentage. To win a Cup, a team has historically needed a netminder capable of putting up a .925 save percentage over 600 shots, which most NHL goalies can provide. But how likely is Holtby to do it?

Holtby has played 21 games at the NHL level, saving 487 of 524 shots for a save percentage of .929. Observed talent is not actual talent, so we can estimate with 95 percent confidence his “true talent” level is between .903 and .949. The huge spread is because of the small sample size of his career, which illustrates that we just don’t know how good Holtby will or won’t be at the NHL level. Since the 1997-98 season, rookie goaltenders in the playoffs have posted a .912 save percentage.

Inexperienced goalies are always a dicey proposition, especially in the playoffs. For every stellar performance (like Corey Crawford in Chicago last year) there seems to be an equally unimpressive effort (like Sergei Bobrovsky, who appeared in six games for Philly last postseason, going 0-2 with an .877 save percentage and a 3.43 GAA.)

Heading into Thursday, the Caps are hoping Holtby will be more like Crow than Bob.

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