Earlier this month, Capitals defenseman John Carlson said he hopes the “fresh faces” who’ll join the team this season can bring new “energy” to the lineup.
On Wednesday, Braden Holtby echoed those sentiments.
The all-star goalie, who turns 28 next month, hopes the prospects will create a more competitive environment around Kettler Capitals Iceplex as they battle to earn—and keep—NHL jobs.
“It’ll be nice, especially in training camp, to have some spots open, to create a little more intensity,” Holtby said.
“The last few years we’ve basically had our roster, and everyone knew that. Guys were fighting for call-ups. This year, with so many roster spots open, it should really prepare us for Game 1.”
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After seeing virtually no changes last summer, the cap-strapped Caps shed some big-name vets this offseason in order to re-sign their own restricted free agents and shoehorn the payroll underneath the $75 million salary cap ceiling.
It wasn’t easy for Holtby to digest, even though he knew significant changes were likely coming.
“Obviously it was tough,” Holtby said. “You knew something was going to happen with the situation with the cap and such. But you don’t really know how it’s going to shake down.”
He added: “It’s going to create some difficulties for us off the start [that we’ll need to] battle through. But it’s a good challenge for us.”
All told, the Caps will have at least three new forwards and two defensemen, if you count the spare. And there will be no shortage of prospects vying for those spots when camp opens in mid-September.
Another change is going to directly affect Holtby.
Goalie Coach Mitch Korn is handing off his day-to-day duties to Scott Murray, who had been based in Hershey. Holtby has worked closely with Korn over the past three seasons and enjoyed quite a bit of success as a result, capturing the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16 and the William M. Jennings Trophy last season.
“That was Mitch’s plan when he came here, and he stuck with it,” Holtby said of Korn stepping into more of an advisory role. “That’s the kind of guy he is. Last year we had Scotty come in for about a week every month to try and ease the transition. They have a very similar philosophy, are highly intelligent guys.”
“Obviously, everyone is different,” Holtby added. “We’re going to make sure we’re feeling each other out to see what works best, but it should be seamless.”
Holtby spoke to CSN following an informal practice in Arlington, Va. On Wednesday, he joined Philipp Grubauer, Carlson, prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Nathan Walker and Vitek Vanecek as well as Johansson, who was traded to the Devils in July. The group has been growing steadily and will continue to do so as camp approaches.
Holtby, typically one of the first big names to arrive each summer, is itching for the regular season to get here. But before he was able to look forward to it, he first had to turn the page on another early postseason exit, again at the hands of the Penguins.
“I don’t know there’s ever any coming to peace with things,” he said. “It’s just learning from it.”
“Obviously,” he continued, “it wasn’t the way we wanted things to work out. We didn’t play the way should have, and we all knew that right from the day after. That was the more frustrating part. But there’s another day.”
Roughly six weeks from now, it’ll all begin anew for Holtby and a lineup that is going to feature several younger, less experienced players sprinkled throughout.
And while Holtby acknowledges that there could be some early challenges, he’s also confident that the Caps can remain a contender.
“We’re here this year with equally as good an opportunity as ever in the past to create team that can win a Stanley Cup,” he said. “I think one of the things we have working for us—like I said before—is the ability to have a high-intensity training camp to start us on that road [where] we’re going to have to have more hard work, more dedication, more expectations out of everyone. It’ll be good.”