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After offseason of change, Caps' Holtby hopes camp competition creates a more intense environment

After offseason of change, Caps' Holtby hopes camp competition creates a more intense environment

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.”

RELATED: HOLTBY HITS THE ICE ... AS A FORWARD

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.

Forwards Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik as well as defensemen Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt all walked out the door.

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.  

RELATED: 2017-18 CAPITALS' SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

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.”    

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Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

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USA TODAY Sports

Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

What is the one knock on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game?

You know what it is. Everybody say it with me now: He needs to shoot the puck more.

It’s no secret what fans want the talented Russian forward to do.

They yell it from the stands of Capital One Arena or when they watching the TV braodcast at home.

Heck, Barry Trotz has talked about it to the media before.

That’s what made Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks so refreshing.

With Washington down 2-1 in the third, Jakub Vrana found Kuznetsov in the slot and he buried it into the net behind Ducks goalie John Gibson. He even had Tom Wilson on the back door to pass to, but he chose instead to shoot the puck. That shows that he…wait, what’s that?

“I think Kuzy was, on his goal, I think he was trying to make one more pass,” Trotz said after the game.

No way. This is just the head coach being tongue-in-cheek, right?

Watch the replay and see for yourself:

RELATED: 5 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE DUCKS

Oh. Yeah, that was definitely a pass.

Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano reaches in to try and get his stick in the way of the shot and the puck deflects off his stick and into the net. If you watch, however, the puck was never intended to go on net. Instead, Kuznetsov was trying to get it to Wilson on the back door.

CAPS EXTRA PODCAST: GAME 34 VS. DUCKS

At this moment, Kuznetsov still has the puck on his stick, but the blade of the stick is not facing the goal. It is facing Wilson.

The fact that he has not yet released the puck at this point means he’s not aiming for the goal.

While aiming at Wilson, Cogliano’s stick gets in the way and deflects it on net.

Could Kuznetsov have gotten that puck to Wilson? Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is in the passing lane, but if anyone could thread that needle, it’s Kuznetsov. The point , however, is that passing here is the wrong decision.

Kuznetsov has the opportunity to shoot from a high-danger area. Wilson would have had a layup if Kuznetsov had gotten him the puck, but trying to pass through Bieksa is a much more difficult play. If you already have the puck in a high-danger area with an opportunity to shoot, you need to take that opportunity.

The bad news is Kuznetsov was trying to pass up a scoring chance for a more difficult play to set up a teammate. The good news is that it didn't matter. Cogliano’s effort to try to defend the shot ended up putting the puck into the back of the net thus saving Kuznetsov from making the wrong decision.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but there’s still a lesson here for Kuznetsov on why shooting the puck is the better option.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Ducks

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USA TODAY Sports

5 reasons the Caps beat the Ducks

This game was not going the Caps' way through two periods. Everything changed in the final frame, however, as the Capitals rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime. Alex Ovechkin did the rest in a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Here's how the Caps were able to rally for the win.

Braden Holtby  holding the goal line late in the second (about 4:10 left)

Washington trailed 2-0 in the second and the Ducks were looking for more late. A shot from Derek Grant on the left went wide and hit off the backboards right to Dennis Rasmussen who tried to stuff the puck on Holtby's right. Holtby dove to cover the goal line. Critically, his goal stick stuck out past the post and neither Rasmussen nor Logan Shaw could get the puck past the stick to get the puck to the front and stuff it in. Once the puck finally did squirt free into the crease, Hotlby gloved it. A 3-0 deficit may have been lights out for Washington.

RELATED: SEE TARIK'S 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-DUCKS

Nicklas Backstrom's early third period goal

Trying to overcome a two-goal deficit in one period is a daunting task. Every second that ticks by makes your comeback bid harder. The fact that Nicklas Backstrom was able to strike just over three minutes into the third period was absolutely critical. Backstrom was able to net a rebound off of an Alex Ovechkin shot just over three minutes into the third period. The Caps went from a two-goal deficit to trailing by one with 17 minutes remaining. Suddenly, that mountain they had to climb did not seem so high.

A lucky tip or a veteran call?

If you've been yelling for Evgeny Kuznetsov to shoot the puck more, you were probably pleased with his third period goal to tie the game at two. With Tom Wilson open on the backdoor, Kuznetsov chose to call his own number and fired a shot past Gibson. Or did he? Was Kuznetsov trying to pass that puck? Take a look at the replay.

Just at the last second, Andrew Cogliano hits either the puck or the stick of Kuznetsov. Whether he meant to pass and it was a lucky break or he was thinking shot the whole way, it worked out for the Caps.

WATCH: ALEX OVECHKIN'S OVERTIME WINNER OVER ANAHEIM

Braden Holtby's two early saves on Rickard Rakell in overtime

Rakell wanted the Ducks to win this game. Less than a minute into overtime, he had a lane to shoot on Holtby. Holtby made the initial save, but the rebound bounced to the faceoff circle. Both of the trailing players in red skated past. Holtby took a step forward to try to clear the puck from danger, but then saw Rakell had a step on him to collect his own rebound. He stopped, then kicked out the pad to make an incredible save to deny Rakell again about 10 feet out of the crease.

Alex Ovechkin's bullet

Sometimes when you play against a player like Ovechkin, there's nothing you can do. At the end of his shift, Ovechkin elected to carry the puck into the offensive zone rather than passing it off to change up. He was forced to the boards by Brandon Montour and decided just to tee-up the mini slap shot. When you're the greatest goal scorer of a generation, however, even a shot from the top of the faceoff circle near the boards is a dangerous shot.