Braden Holtby is one of the leaders of Washington’s 2019-20 team and the greatest Capitals goaltender of all-time. Saturday against the Islanders, however, Holtby gave up four goals on 22 shots through two periods of play. With the Capitals down 4-1, Todd Reirden pulled the Holtbeast at intermission and replaced him with rookie Ilya Samsonov.
The Capitals would score five unanswered goals and Ilya Samsonov stopped all seven shots that he saw in the third period, giving Washington a ridiculous 6-4 comeback win in their final game before their bye week and an eight-day vacation. Inside the locker room, the players held their final Capitals’ hard hat presentation. An autographed Washington Nationals’ batting helmet is given to the team’s player of the game – a subjective and symbolic award that can sometimes go to a player that does the dirty work behind the scenes for a victory.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored a hat trick against the New Jersey Devils the game before, was the player giving out the helmet. He decided to give it to Braden Holtby.
“Without your saves, we wouldn’t have had a chance,” Ovechkin said, according to the Capitals’ Mike Vogel in his postgame notebook.
Holtby is in the midst of one of the toughest stretches of his career, having yielded three or more goals in seven straight starts, and owning a 1-6-0 mark in his last seven starts. In a chaotic locker room situation with all the members of this close-knit team set to scatter about the globe for the next several days, Ovechkin had the humanity and presence of mind to use the moment to shore up a sagging teammate.
Being a great captain isn’t all about what happens on the ice. A lot of that leadership is displayed away from the rinks and the cameras. Ovechkin is clearly at the top of his captaincy game as well.
Beyond Holtby’s recent poor play, there may also be something else he’s grappling with and feels pressure from. The Holtbeast is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and the Capitals’ may not have the salary-cap space to bring him back after re-signing Nicklas Backstrom to a $9.2 million AAV salary and needing to lock up Ovechkin sometime next season. Samsonov is also setting NHL records with his play as a rookie and so far, he’s shown that he’s deserving of more opportunity. Holtby has stated multiple times he’d love to come back and stay in DC. Reports recently surfaced that the Capitals and Holtby will not talk about a new contract until after the season’s end. Ovechkin’s gesture surely showed to Holtby and the rest of the team that the team loves and needs him.
Braden Holtby watching from the tunnel pic.twitter.com/EOf4lWlHBW
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) January 18, 2020
Meanwhile, Vogel’s reporting illustrates how misunderstood and underappreciated Ovechkin’s leadership has been throughout the majority of his career before winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Ovechkin was blamed by the national media for the Capitals’ poor showings in the postseason despite routinely being the Capitals’ best player. His captaincy and if he was deserving was long debated on social media and comment sections.
Now, that narrative continues to change as Ovechkin remains the only Russian in NHL history to captain a team to a Stanley Cup win.
Headline photo: @Capitals
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