Holtby More Than Holding His Own – Caps goaltender Braden Holtby has always prided himself on rebounding from the occasional subpar performance by coming back stronger and better his next time out. Over the years, he has excelled in starts immediately following starts from which he was pulled.
Thirteen starts into 2017-18, Holtby has been pulled from only one start. He went to the bench 35 minutes into Washington’s 6-2 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver on Oct. 26, having surrendered five goals on 22 shots that night. True to form, he followed that start up with a very good one. And another, and another, and another, and he’s still going.
Holtby was at the top of his game on Sunday when he made 29 stops to help the Caps to a 2-1 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers at Capital One Arena. The win was Holtby’s sixth straight since that loss in Vancouver late last month.
Holtby’s best sequence came late in the second period of what was a scoreless game at that point. Caps coach Barry Trotz later termed the second half of the second period of Sunday’s game “…probably our worst stretch of hockey in a while.” The Caps were outshot 8-0 over the final six minutes of the middle period, but Holtby stopped Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon five times in a span of 39 seconds. All five of those Maroon tries came from 12 feet away, or closer.
“That was a pretty stupid sequence there,” remarks Washington winger Tom Wilson. “It’s amazing. Every night you get to watch him, it’s an absolute treat. He is one of the elite goalies, and you see it with the history the other night. We’re lucky to have that pleasure. We’re lucky to have him back there kicking for us. And we’ve got to do our best to complement him and try to keep the pucks away from him as much as possible.”
Aside from that one stretch late in the second, the Caps did a good job of keeping the Oilers – and star forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – away from the high danger areas of the Washington end of the ice.
“Overall I think we had a pretty good game,” says Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who scored Washington’s lone goal of the night. “Holts today was outstanding. He helped us a lot, making great saves.”
That’s what Holtby’s been doing for most of the season now, but especially since the Vancouver game. Over his last six starts, Holtby is 6-0-0 with a 1.79 GAA and a .944 save pct. He has 10 wins on the season now, and is a quarter of the way to what would be an unprecedented fourth straight season with 40 or more wins.
On Monday afternoon, the NHL named Holtby the league’s third star for the week ending on Sunday, Nov. 12. He was 3-0-0 with a 1.27 GAA and a .952 save pct. in his three starts last week.
Shutdown Street – Holtby had some help in keeping the likes of McDavid, Maroon and Draisaitl in check on Sunday. More often than not, Trotz deployed the forward trio of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly against the Oilers top trio. Defensively, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik drew the tough assignment, as is normally the case.
“Kuzy was really skating,” says Trotz. “They’re the two fastest guys in the league I think when they’re going against each other. I thought he did a really good job; that whole line did a pretty good job keeping them at bay. And when [the Oilers] got away from that matchup – they play them so much, I think [McDavid] played 27 minutes or something like that – our guys won’t play 27 minutes at the forward position, so you have to use different lines. But I thought Kuzy’s line did a real good job.”
Carlson logged 29:17 and Orpik skated 23:57 on the night.
Number One For Number Nine – Coming in Washington’s 18
th game of the season, Orlov’s first goal of the campaign was a big one, tying the game at 5:14 of the third period just minutes after Jujhar Khaira had staked the Oilers to a 1-0 lead with his own first tally of 2017-18.
Last season, Orlov’s first goal came in the Caps’ 16
th game of the season on Nov. 16. In 2015-16, he netted his first of the season in the Capitals’ 19
th game of the season on Nov. 21, 2015, the fourth anniversary of his NHL debut.
Orlov’s first goal in ’15-16 set off a run of three straight games in which he scored a goal. The second of those games was a 1-0 win over the Oilers in Washington on Nov. 23, 2015, a game in which Holtby made 33 saves in a whitewashing of Edmonton.
Offense From The Defense – Orlov’s goal came with an assist from partner Madison Bowey, giving the Caps’ blueline brigade a total of 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) over the team’s last nine games.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears suffered a 5-1 setback at the hands of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Sunday afternoon at Giant Center.
Dustin Gazley scored Hershey’s only goal of the game on a power play midway through the second period. Gazley’s first goal of the season came with a single assist from defenseman Colby Williams.
Vitek Vanecek started and went the distance for the Bears in his first AHL start of the season. He was reached for four goals on just 10 shots against.
The 6-7-0-2 Bears will be back in action on Wednesday night at Giant Center when they host the Syracuse Crunch.
By The Numbers – Carlson’s 29:17 led all skaters on both sides … Orlov led the Caps with four shots on net … Ovechkin led the Caps with eight shot attempts, but he was held without a shot on goal. Six tries were blocked and two more missed the net … T.J. Oshie led the Caps with five hits … Orpik led Washington with four blocked shots … Nicklas Backstrom won 10 of 12 face-offs (83%) … Edmonton owned a 64-35 advantage in shot attempts for the night, this despite the Caps having two power plays in the game to none for the Oilers.