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Holtby, Ellis preparing for 3-on-3 onslaught


Holtby, Ellis preparing for 3-on-3 onslaught

Fresh off a statement season in which he set career highs in wins (41), shutouts (9), games played (73), goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.923), Braden Holtby will make his preseason debut tonight when the Capitals take on the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.

“Finally,” Holtby said with a grin. “I can’t wait.”

Holtby is scheduled to play the first 30 minutes of tonight’s game before giving way to Dan Ellis, a 35-year-old veteran goaltender signed by the Capitals on July 4, two days after the Capitals acquired right wing T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for right wing Troy Brouwer, goaltender Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in next year’s draft.

A 12-year veteran of 212 NHL games and 195 AHL games, Ellis said he had received only a few “nibbles” and “poking around” when free agency opened on July 1. But after the Caps made the deal for Oshie, he reached out to Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn, his goaltending coach in Nashville from 2007-10.

“It was kind of a last-minute thing,” Ellis said. “I asked Mitch if it opened a spot. He said there was a list and I might be on it. Forty-eight hours later I signed.”

RELATED: Caps' ECHL affiliate reveals 'Charleston Strong' jersey

In all likelihood, Ellis will begin the 2015-16 season as the backup in Hershey, under either Justin Peters or Philipp Grubauer, who are fighting for the right to back up Holtby.

“As a backup goalie you always want to give your starter the rest he needs and when he does get those games off you want to give the team the confidence there’s not going to be a big step down,” said Ellis, who last season played in eight games for the Florida Panthers and 37 games for the AHL San Antonio Rampage.

With rookie prospects Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos expected to begin their pro careers in Hershey, Ellis said he hopes to provide the veteran presence needed on the Bears.

“I’m one of the older guys, next to (Jason) Chimera, and you want to bring a little bit of calmness to the room, especially when things get hairy. I’m a humorous guy and light-hearted, so if you can lighten the load on some of these guys, it’s key.

“Sometimes if a coach is harping down their throats I can be the guy to encourage and tell them to stick with it.”

Since Ellis will play the second half of tonight’s game he’ll also get the call for the 3-on-3 overtime period, which will be played regardless of the score after 60 minutes to allow teams experiment with the new format.

Ellis had some experience with the 3-on-3 format last season in San Antonio, when the AHL experimented with a seven-minute overtime that began 4-on-4 before going to 3-on-3.

“Obviously, there’s going to be a learning curve for these guys,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be pretty wide open. This is the highest level of skill in the world and when you give a guy like (Alex) Ovechkin multiple breakaways he’s going to score. This team is loaded with talent.”

Ellis offered some cautionary advice to players like Ovechkin, saying many missed shots led to game-deciding breakaways the other way.  

“Honestly, when someone missed the net the puck would carom around,” Ellis said. “One guy bolts the zone and is on a breakaway. I’d say we had four or five games ended on straight breakaways. You definitely don’t want to miss the net.”

The Caps will also experiment with the 3-on-3 overtime following regulation on Tuesday night in Boston and again on Friday night, Oct. 2 at home against the Bruins. Unless their other games go to overtime, Holtby’s first taste of 3-on-3 could come on Oct. 2.

“Goaltending doesn’t change much,” Holtby said. “You find the open guys, realize your options and react to it. We train all summer 3-on-3. It’s not exactly our favorite thing, but it will be more fun when it’s intense with guys actually backchecking.”

Caps coach Barry Trotz wondered if some goalies might switch to lighter sticks or gloves so they can handle the puck better in the overtime periods. Holtby says he won’t.

“Mine are kind of based on that already,” he said.

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie thrilled to be playing with Ovechkin

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.


Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.


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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.