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Fantasy Spin: Time to buy low on Capitals' Holtby

by Pete Jensen

It's no secret this season has been a step in the wrong direction for Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.

His goals-against average has ballooned to 3.08 after surrendering five goals in each of his past three outings (0-2-1) dating back to Dec. 17. His slump and Michal Neuvirth's injury opened the door for rookie Philipp Grubauer, who improved to 6-2-3 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .931 save percentage with a win Thursday over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Grubauer, 22, has received the bulk of playing time over the past month and change -- and deservedly so.

But fantasy owners should look to take a calculated risk ahead of the final three months of the 2013-14 season. The opportunity to buy low on Holtby while his value has hit rock bottom is worth pursuing. He's a proven second-half performer for a team all too familiar with the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has seen Philipp Grubauer steal starts from him over the past month. However, Holtby's historical second-half prowess indicates he's a good buy-low option in fantasy leagues. (Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI)

Despite an erratic offense, power play dependence (26.1 conversion percentage leading the NHL) and Holtby's struggles, the Capitals would still be in the postseason if the season ended at this point. Holtby has consistently risen to the occasion down the stretch since entering the League, compiling a 27-6-2 mark with 67 goals allowed in 35 career games played in March and April.

Last spring should still be fresh in everyone's mind. Holtby benefited largely from the second-half outbursts of Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green by going 14-3-1 to close out the regular season. Even though Holtby hasn't fared well of late, owners should remember that his Yahoo Fantasy average draft position entering the season was 52.3 for obvious reasons.

He's a promising talent who has gone through ups and downs, but remains under contract until 2014-15. While he's not quite locked up for the long-term, it's safe to say he still has time to right the ship and prove to his team -- and keeper-league fantasy owners -- that he's worth investing in.

Another reason why owners would be wise to pick up or swing a low-risk deal for Holtby is that he won't be participating in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. While he was invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp and had hopes of representing his country, the break could give him valuable time to work on his craft and prepare mentally and physically for the stretch run.

Considering Holtby has had past playoff success (2.04 GAA, .931 save percentage in 21 career playoff games), it's safe to say there will be motivation on his end to get back to the postseason and prove his mettle.

A lot has transpired for Holtby's ownership to dip all the way down to 77 percent in Yahoo leagues. Fantasy owners who drafted him have been frustrated and in some cases cut ties. But for the reasons above, going against the grain to take a chance on a proven late-season commodity should be in your best interest if you have enough roster flexibility.

Holtby (13-11-2) hasn't played much of late and will certainly need to win back the confidence of coach Adam Oates, but you just can't rule out his fantasy potential entirely at this juncture.

If Holtby's play improves and the Capitals heat up down the stretch as they have in years past, he will be in prime position to finish as a top-15 fantasy goalie. It's understandable if fantasy owners who have endured Holtby's fall from grace are opposed to sticking with him, but outsiders should view this buy-low situation as a clean slate for Holtby, who still has a chance to win back this job.


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