Ask anyone in the Capitals locker room and they’ll tell you their minds are on winning hockey games and getting ahead of the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division standings.
But in the back of some of their minds is the idea that a strong 2015-16 could result in an invitation to play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey next September.
“Sure they do,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who will assist head coach Mike Babcock for Team Canada. “They won’t talk about it, but they know if they perform well they’ll get on everybody’s radar.
“I think every player around the league is looking at that. Some players look at it and say they have a legitimate chance. People who have a good season are going to get noticed. There are a lot of good hockey people watching those guys.”
Through the first quarter of the season it’s pretty evident that Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will represent Team Russia, Nicklas Backstrom will represent Team Sweden and John Carlson will represent Team USA. Braden Holtby has a very good chance of representing Team Canada, especially with Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price on the shelf for the next six weeks with an apparent knee injury.
Holtby enters tonight’s game in Montreal (7 p.m. pregame, CSN) leading the NHL in wins (15) and second in goals-against average (1.95) while posting a personal best seven-game win streak, all of which contributed to him being named the NHL’s Second Star for the month of November.
“Braden’s been very steady for us,” Trotz said. “Obviously, he’s getting recognized around the league and that’s great for Braden. He deserves it. He’d be the first guy to tell you it’s a team effort. He’s the eraser when we make mistakes. Some nights we look better than we are because of Braden.”
A big reason is the Capitals’ risk vs. reward approach to the game this season, with defensemen being asked to join and sometimes lead the rush up the ice. That has put additional pressure on Holtby to be sharp.
“We want our D to be active and there are going to be mistakes and good plays (by the opposition),” Trotz said. “We will give up some odd-man rushes or lose coverage once in a while when we play a team (like Montreal) that activates their D.
“That’s when we need our goalie to be an eraser. Because (Holtby) has played very well it allows us to have the confidence to play the way we do.
“To me, goaltending is all about giving your team an attitude. If you’re unsure about your goaltending you’re always going to be doubting and the trust factor’s not there. It’s like having a bad quarterback. It just doesn’t work.”
Management teams from the eight teams that will participate in the World Cup -- Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States, Team Europe and Team North America -- must announce at least 16 members of its roster, including at least two goaltenders, no later than March 1, 2016. The balance of each team’s roster must be announced no later than June 1, 2016.
Among the other Caps under consideration for the World Cup are Marcus Johansson (Sweden), T.J. Oshie (U.S.) Dmitry Orlov (Russia), Matt Niskanen (U.S.), Karl Alzner (Canada) and Tom Wilson (North America).
Although final roster decisions are still months away, Trotz said he is aware of a “watch list” that has been circulating around the NHL.
“I do know this,” Trotz said. “All the (World Cup) management teams are putting out notes to the (NHL) management teams and even to the coaching staffs about a watch list, players that are trending.
“Trust me, we’re not going to have a lot of time chasing around looking for a player playing in L.A. I could care less. I’m only worried about our group. But if they ask us about anybody in our group I can tell them what I think and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
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