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Kolzig pulling for Holtby to pass Brodeur

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Kolzig pulling for Holtby to pass Brodeur

Perhaps more than anyone but Braden Holtby himself, Olie Kolzig understands the two-year journey the 26-year-old goaltender has taken en route to becoming one of the NHL’s elite netminders.

That is why Kolzig appreciates the fact that Holtby has broken his franchise record of 41 wins, a mark he set during the 1999-2000 season.

“You know what?” said Kolzig, who sent Holtby a congratulatory text Tuesday night following the Caps’ 2-1 overtime win. “Records are meant to be broken and if anybody was going to do it, I’m happy that it was Braden. Obviously, with the relationship he and I have had over the years and the crap he had to go through a couple years ago, it’s great to see a good guy get rewarded.”

About this time three years ago, Holtby and Kolzig decided to abandon the directive of head coach Adam Oates and return to the style that got Holtby into the NHL two years earlier.

“There was a time there (during the 2013-14 season) where he was just unsure of himself, he was confused,” Kolzig said. “And near the end of that season he was back to being Braden.”

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Following that season, which ended with Holtby owning a 23-15-4 record and the Capitals missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, Oates was dismissed as coach and Mitch Korn replaced Kolzig as goaltending coach.

Kolzig said Korn has gotten Holtby to play much tighter and faster between the pipes and the results have been impressive. Holtby leads the NHL with 42 wins and ranks seventh in goals-against average (2.22) and tied for eighth in save percentage (.922).

“He has the ability to get from one side of the net in lightning speed,” Kolzig said. “The problem (in the past) was he would get there and there’d be holes in his body. Even though he was there the puck would find its way through.

“Mitch has him getting there with the same type of speed, but getting there as a total package and now players really have to make great shots to beat him. And he still has the ability to scramble and make one of those miraculous saves.”

With 13 games remaining in the regular season, Holtby is seven wins away from breaking Marty Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 wins, set in 2006-07. In that season, Brodeur played in 78 games, while backup Scott Clemensen saw just six games.

This season, Holtby has played in 56 games and is on pace for 50 wins in 66 appearances. Grubauer (8-6-1 with a 2.15 GAA and .925 SP) has played in 18 games and is on pace for 21  

“For (Brodeur) to have that kind of a year wasn’t shocking,” Kolzig said of Brodeur’s record-setting season. “But I’m sure if you look at percentages of how much his backup (Clemmensen) played, I would think Grubi has chipped in a little more than Marty’s backup.

“For Braden to do it in a league now where there’s so much parity, if he can get to that mark I think it will be a real big accomplishment. And I think people will then go, ‘Wow!’ because of how good the league is from 1 to 30.”

As for these Capitals, Kolzig said he thinks it’s the “deepest, most talented Caps team that’s ever been put on the ice” and thinks Holtby has made a strong case for team MVP.

“Winning in the NHL, no matter how good a team you have, is not easy,” he said. “Every part has to be working at the same time. It could be argued that Braden could be the MVP of that team. Early on in the season they won a lot more games than they should have based on how Braden played. Now they’re firing on all cylinders.”

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.