Lost in the Capitals’ 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night was the strong performance of Braden Holtby who turned aside 25 of the 26 shots he faced. The only goal he allowed came late in the third period with the game already well in hand.
On Friday, however, Holtby did not get the same offensive support. This time, the team needed him to keep a clean sheet and he did just that, making 25 saves to blank the Detroit Red Wings and earn the Caps the narrow 1-0 win.
With T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky all suffering injuries in the first period, the burden fell upon Holtby to carry the team. Without a full line’s worth of players for forty minutes, he needed to be the team’s best player on the ice and he delivered.
"He's always one of our best players," Tom Wilson said. "Any given night, we know he's going to show up, we know he's going to be one of the best players on the ice if not the best on any given night. We're very privileged to have him."
It started in the first period as Henrik Zetterburg led a two-on-one rush and fed Tomas Tatar with a perfect pass for what should have been an easy goal. Holtby, however, stretched the pad to deny Tatar with the toe save.
Heading into the second period, the team knew they had to play differently due to losing three players in order to prevent the Red Wings from grinding them down. Short shifts and smart play was emphasized in the locker room.
Holtby’s mentality was different in that he didn’t change anything.
“To be honest, I only knew Osh was out because of the replay," Holtby said. "That's something I can't control so I don't pay too much attention to it. I just try to focus on my game."
To make Holtby’s task even more difficult, the Caps took two penalties in the second period. Oshie and Eller both contribute on the penalty kill meaning the burden fell even more to Holtby to be the team’s best penalty killer. Once again, he stepped up.
Detroit managed six shots on net with the extra man, and Holtby was up to the task each time.
The save of the game came with just under a minute left to play in regulation. With the Caps clinging to a 1-0 lead, Detroit pulled goalie Jimmy Howard for the extra attacker. Justin Abdelkader tipped a pass between his legs from Holtby’s left to the right side of the crease to a waiting Gustav Nyquist. Nyquist had an empty net yawning, but Holtby stretched out the pad to deny the sure goal and preserve the lead.
"You talk about big moments, he stepped up," Barry Trotz said.
Despite the performance, Holtby stayed characteristically stoic after the game.
"You play every game as it is. There's some games you let in four and you played better than you get a shutout. You just have to play the game that's handed to you and focus on every shot and see what the outcome is."
The outcome was Holtby's 24th career shutout and a Capitals win that, whether he wants to admit it or not, was largely the result of his fantastic effort between the pipes.
Said Wilson, "He's always there for us to bail us out and it's nice to get him the shutout and get him the win."
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