PITTSBURGH -- The Capitals all agree they’ve been making Braden Holtby work way too hard his past two games. But they’re pretty happy with the results.
After seeing him stop 35 of 36 shots in Tampa on Saturday, the Caps watched Holtby turn aside 44 shots in a 4-1 win over the Penguins Monday night, stretching his personal stretch of dominance to 11-0-1.
“We’re so happy to have him in the net,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who scored one goal and assisted on two more by T.J. Oshie. “He’s our best player every night. It’s impressive to see. To be honest I haven’t seen him any better than this.”
Holtby has allowed two or fewer goals in seven straight games and in 19 of his 24 starts this season.
Against the Penguins Holtby had to be good from the start. He closed his pads on a redirection from Sidney Crosby on the opening shift of the game and was nearly perfect the rest of the way, stopping defenseman Olli Maatta six times and Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, David Perron, Chris Kunitz and Ian Cole four times each.
“I was seeing the puck well through traffic,” Holtby said. “I thought my movement was good, but it had to be because my rebound control wasn’t very good.”
Still, the Caps weren’t happy with forcing their goalie to face the most shots he’s seen all season, even if Barry Trotz thought the shot totals were padded for the home team.
“We addressed it,” said Capitals center Jay Beagle, who assisted on John Carlson’s first-period goal. “Holts had to stand on his head again. We’ve got to be better defensively. It starts with getting the puck deep. We’ve got to tighten up.”
Despite getting outshot 31-24 in the first two periods the Caps carried a 2-1 lead into the third. Backstrom got the Caps on the board with a wicked wrist shot after a nice blue line curl and backhand pass from Oshie.
A strong forecheck by the Caps’ third line of Beagle, Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson led to Carlson’s goal, which came on his own rebound.
The Caps sealed it in the third when Oshie and Backstrom again worked their magic. Oshie took a pass from Backstrom and swung around the back of the net to tuck a wraparound past Marc-Andre Fleury with 8:50 gone in the third to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.
“I looked down at him right away and it looked like he got stuck somehow maybe, or he was staying on the post,” Oshie said of his first goal, “and fortunately I beat him to the other post.”
The Penguins pulled Fleury with more than two minutes remaining in the game, but Wilson drew a hooking penalty against Maatta and Carlson drew a tripping penalty on Malkin, allowing Oshie to finish off the Pens with a power-play slam dunk off a Backstrom feed.
“That goal made it a completely different game and the penalties (to Maatta and Malkin) are a big game changer,” Holtby said. “(Wilson) keeps his feet moving and he draws a penalty and that’s good game management right there.”
While Malkin picked up his 14th goal of the season against the Caps’ top line, Beagle did a masterful job of suffocating both Crosby and Malkin when they were out together.
“I knew we’d get one or the other,” Beagle said. “I think they were matching Malkin against our line more than we were trying to match them. Their forwards are so dynamic that you’ve got to get (the puck) behind them and go to work.”