This is a Braden Holtby appreciation post – Russian Machine Never Breaks

Braden Holtby was selected by the Washington Capitals 93rd overall in the 2008 draft. The gawky, glasses-wearing nerd out of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, had only a 12 percent chance of making the NHL as a fourth-round pick.

Holtby was never supposed to make the NHL. Instead, 12 years later, he is inarguably the greatest goaltender in Washington Capitals history – no matter what team he finishes his career with. Holtby’s likeness now appears on a mural on the side of a bridge just outside his hometown.

Holtby will start in goal, perhaps for the final time, tonight during Game Four of the Capitals’ first-round series against the New York Islanders. Washington trails 3-0 and is facing elimination. The Caps longtime starter is an unrestricted free agent after the season ends. With the salary cap flat and the Caps without much cap space, his return next season seems unlikely.

What is certain is that his career in Washington has been legendary.

Holtby first signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals on October 20, 2008, and joined the organization in 2009-10 with the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays as a 20-year-old. At that point in time, Holtby was behind 2006 first-round pick Semyon Varlamov and 2006 second-round pick Michal Neuvirth on the goalie prospect depth chart while Jose Theodore was the number one starter in Washington.

Capitals fans first got introduced to Holtby in the minor leagues due to his intricate Holtbyisms – weird superstitions that he repeated every game.

On November 5, 2010, Holtby’s NHL career in Washington began with a 10 minute and nine-second relief appearance late in the third period. Holtby made four saves to earn his first career NHL victory. During his first NHL start two nights later, he made 23 saves against the Philadelphia Flyers and would earn another W. He would go on to start his career 10-2-2 in his first 14 games in the NHL.

Holtby would become the Capitals’ starter during the 2012 postseason, leading the Capitals past the Boston Bruins in the first round. That series featured this iconic moment when Rich Peverley wound up and faked slashing Holtby in the chest. Holtby did not flinch. It was the moment he officially arrived.

Holtby’s 1.95 goals-against average and .935 save percentage during that year’s postseason catapulted him into the team’s starter for the next eight seasons.

During that time, Holtby became one of the greatest goalies in the NHL and accomplished these mind-boggling things.

  • Holtby played a league-high 73 games and 4,247 minutes during the in 2014-15 season and had nine shutouts.
  • Holtby won the Vezina Trophy the next season as the league’s best goaltender. He finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting and was named an NHL First-Team All-Star. Holtby finished the season with a 48-9-7 record, a 2.20 GAA, a .922 save percentage, and three shutouts.
  • Holtby’s 48 victories that season tied him with Martin Brodeur for the most wins in a single season in NHL history.
  • Holtby was named to five NHL All-Star Games (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020).
  • Holtby won the 2017 William M. Jennings Trophy for giving up the fewest goals in the NHL.
  • Overall he received votes for the Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy three different years.

Holtby’s biggest achievement came in 2018 when he helped lead the Capitals’ to the first Stanley Cup. Despite not starting the postseason as the starter (Philipp Grubauer), Holtby won all 16 games of the Capitals championship run, posting a 16-7 record, 2.16 GAA, .922 save percentage, and two shutouts.

His biggest moment came in Game Two of the Stanley Cup when he made The Save, stopping Alex Tuch from point-blank range with his stick.

After the game, Alex Ovechkin told Sportsnet’s Scott Oake “thanks god we have that guy in the net.”

The Capitals would wrap the series up in Game Five. Holtby stopped 28 of 31 shots during the team’s 4-3 win.

Holtby would bring the Stanley Cup back to Lloydminster during his Stanley Cup day.

He would make an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon alongside captain Alex Ovechkin.

But it was Holtby’s activism and work in the community that would turn him from a good hockey player to a DC icon.

Holtby donated his time and money to help build a gym for kids at Hendley Elementary School in DC’s Ward 8. He helped raise money for tens of thousands of meals during the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2016, he became the first Capitals player to ever walk in the DC Pride Parade and has continued the tradition every year the hockey schedule has allowed him to.

In February 2017, Holtby was named the Caps’ LGBTQ-inclusion ambassador by the NHL, serving as a leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Holtby also raised thousands of dollars for You Can Play after wearing a custom-designed mask during Hockey Is For Everyone month. For his dedication to the cause, Holtby received the DC Pride Ally Award. Holtby also spoke at the 2018 Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner and was one of a handful of Capitals players who skipped the team’s White House celebration with President Trump.

“In the end I never really came up with a situation where I would feel comfortable going,” Holtby said March 2019. “My family and myself, we believe in a world where humans are treated with respect regardless of your stature, what you’re born into. So I think that’s just where it’s at in terms of this decision. You’re asked to choose which side you’re on and I hope it’s pretty clear what side I’m on.”

After George Floyd’s murder due to police brutality, Holtby released a powerful statement saying that “America will never be great until all BLACK lives matter.”

Finally, Holtby had a unique connection with Capitals fans, always taking time to show appreciation to fans who wanted a photo, autograph, or some game-used equipment. Tuesday morning, we asked readers to share their photos with Holtby, and here is just a handful of the hundreds of submissions we got.

Emotional, right?

On behalf of every Caps fan’s life that you touched, thank you, Braden.

Headline photo: @LynnOvermann