By Chris Gordon
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Braden Holtby has been shaky at times this season. After his excellent run in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the young netminder has struggled to find his game the first few weeks of the season. Of course, he wasn’t the only one.
“It’s obviously it’s others saying that — the media and whatnot,” Holtby said of the early season travails. “It doesn’t even come close to the pressure we put on ourselves in this room.”
Saturday, though, we saw the Holtby Caps fans love — saves, sass, and stick handling that can put forwards to shame.
With the Caps on the power play up 1-0 early in the second period — a frame that they’ve had some issues with this season — Holtby scooped up the puck cleared down the rink by the Florida Panthers. The former minor hockey forward then fired a beautiful saucer pass from here to the moon — or rather from the crease to just before the far blue line (around 110 feet), where Troy Brouwer was waiting. Brouwer then rifled a slap shot past Jose Theodore for his second goal of the night (his first tally required less skill and more backside).
“Great play, big goal,” head coach Adam Oates said. “It obviously hurt.”
“It’s a very heady play by him,” he added of Holtby. “It’s a pass down the ice, that’s means he’s involved with the game.”
Because you’re dying to know, it was the first point on the man advantage for a Washington goalie since Tomas Vokoun did it more than a year ago and only the second assist of Holtby’s short career.
“It’s kind of funny because I though this was my worst game playing the puck throughout the year,” Holtby said. “I usually just make it to try to get position in their end. I didn’t expect Troy to absolutely let out a bomb there. That was a great shot.”
Along with his offensive contribution, Holtby looked solid in net on the way to a shutout out of the Cats. Bailing his boys out on a few occasions, Holtby notched 27 saves.
“His play in general was phenomenal,” Brouwer said. “He was talking back there, he was letting guys know where he wanted them on the ice, letting guys know what he expected out of them, made very timely saves — which is what we haven’t got so far this season.”
“Traffic in front of the net was nonexistent today because our D and forwards they really took it to heart this last little while that we need to bear down on our end,” Holtby told reporters. “It was outstanding tonight. We’re going to need that to keep moving forward.”
And the team as a whole? Well, the Caps finally looked good in a hockey game Saturday, something they haven’t done much. But no matter what happens from here, the hole could already be too deep. They are just 3-9-1 and they still have the worst record in the league.
The team realizes this. On Friday morning, they held a players only meeting to address their woes.
“It was good to get things off our chest,” said Brouwer of the discussion. “Guys tend to bottle things up because they don’t want to bring them out and cause controversy within the team. We tried to create an environment within the team where guys could express their concern and not be ridiculed for it, as a result, I think guys took to it positively as you can see, with the effort tonight.”
Well, it worked. (Others might point to different events though, namely ones that involves hacking the heads off rubber animals.) The goaltending was good. The power play was good. The penalty was good. The Capitals dominated the Panthers on the way to a 5-0 win.
“I think any win at this point is what we’re looking for,” Holtby said of the victory. “Anything less is unacceptable. We already gave ourselves a big enough hole with being complacent and now we’re not going to step off the gas for the rest of the year. That’s the plan and we’re going to do it.”
He added of the game: “If we use it to our advantage it can put a lot of confidence in our team. But that’s only talk. We have to make sure we come to work tomorrow and on this road trip in Florida and we improve on every game and we’re not satisfied with this one.”
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