With five wins separating him from one of hockey’s most treasured goaltending records, Braden Holtby readily admits he is more concerned about the state of the Capitals than being mentioned in the same breath as future Hall of Famer Marty Brodeur.
Following the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night Holtby described a locker room determined to pull itself out of a funk that has hit “bottom.”
Mind you, this was on a night the Capitals clinched the Metropolitan Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference with its 52nd win and 108th and 109th points.
“I think we’re all kind of sick of the way we’ve played at times over the past couple months, and you can tell it’s starting to turn,” Holtby said. “Everyone’s realizing you have to hit that bottom and tonight you could kind of tell this is where we turn it around now.”
Despite their gaudy record and the fact they are 14-0-1 following regulation losses this season, the Caps have won in regulation just twice in their last nine games. The Caps are 5-3-1 in that stretch, but two of those wins came in overtime and one came in a shootout.
Maybe that’s why no one was spraying champagne around the visiting locker room Tuesday night after the Caps clinched home ice for the first three rounds of the playoffs. Following the game there seemed to be a prevailing feeling that if the Caps continue the way they’ve been playing there may be not be able to experience a second or third round of post-season hockey.
“That (clinching the Metro Division) obviously was one of our goals at the start of the year,” Holtby said. “It’s nice to have done , but that’s the last thing on our mind right now. We’re working at getting better.”
The Capitals tackled one of their biggest issues lately by sprinting out to a 3-0 lead on first-period goals by Mike Richards, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but as Ovechkin noted, they “stopped playing” after that and allowed the Senators back into the game by taking undisciplined penalties – one each by Daniel Winnik, Backstrom and Dmitry Orlov – and turning pucks over in all three zones.
“The second period was a turnover festival,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “Both teams were turning the puck over left and right.”
The Caps managed just four shots in that second period, with Holtby and the Caps’ penalty killers keeping them in the game. The Senators rallied with a goal in the second period and another in the third before T.J. Oshie killed the rally with an empty netter.
“That (first period) is what won us the game, really, because we weren’t the better team tonight,” Holtby said. “That was evident. Getting goals early was kind of the opposite of what we’ve been doing lately. We tailed off the rest of the game.”
Asked what needed to be better in the final 40 minutes, Holtby didn’t leave out much.
“Decision making, battles, everything,” he said. “You get a lead like that, you want to make them work for everything, below their goal especially. Against a team like Ottawa you can’t turn pucks over with them. That’s how they get their offense. We recognize that here as a group. That’s a sign of maturity and we’ll fix it.”
On the bright side, Holtby and the Caps kept their streak of not losing back-to-back games in regulation alive. Holtby, who was pulled on Sunday after allowing five goals on 19 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Penguins, is a perfect 13-0-0 in games following losses this season, allowing two or fewer goals in every one.
“Every time is a different animal,” he said. “There’s always something you can do better. Today I just wanted to get back to work and work as hard as I could out there; finish every puck. That was my goal coming in, not overthinking things and just working.”
With 10 games remaining in the regular season and three more sets of back-to-back games, Holtby figures to get seven more cracks at getting the four victories needed to tie Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 wins. Any more would make him the winningest single-season goaltender in NHL history.
But that is the last thing on Holtby’s mind these days.
“We’re not in a playoff push, but with 10 games left it’s a blessing in disguise that we can get ramped up because we have something to play for and we have to make sure we’re getting our top level going into the playoffs,” he said. “It’s a luxury we have 10 games to do it and it’s our job to use them effectively. That’s our goal as a collective group.”
MORE CAPITALS: Caps Justin Williams shows off a few moves during a timeout