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Is this the year Holtby scores his first goal?

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Is this the year Holtby scores his first goal?

With players starting to trickle into Kettler Capitals Iceplex from all corners of the world, we’re spending this week looking at the Capitals’ depth chart at each position and what we can expect heading into what promises to be a very interesting 2015-16 season. Today, we look at Caps’ depth between the pipes:

Braden Holtby

Age: 25

Games: 73

Wins: 41

Losses: 20

Overtime losses: 10

Shutouts: 9

Goals-against average: 2.22

Save percentage: .923

Minutes: 4,247

Assists: 2

2015-16 cap hit: $6.1 million

Analysis: If last year’s regular season was not enough to convince you Holtby has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL – he finished first in the league in games, minutes, shots against and saves; second in wins and shutouts; and fifth in GAA.

In 13 playoff appearances last spring, Holtby ranked second among NHL goalies in GAA (1.71) and save percentage .944). He also led all goalies with three overtime losses, including a heartbreaking 2-1 setback to the Rangers in Game 7 of the second round.

As a result, the Capitals rewarded him with a five-year, $30.5 million contract, making him the seventh highest-paid goalie in the NHL.

Holtby made drastic strides under first-year goaltending coach Mitch Korn last season and he’ll be looking to build off that foundation this season. Holtby is at his best when he finds the balance between being active in his crease and “opening up” for shooters. He is one of the league’s best at handling the puck but can be guilty of being too aggressive trying to make a stretch pass. 

Projection: Mark this down. Braden Holtby will score a goal before he retires, and if it’s going to happen, why not this season? He came close a few times last season, but his main focus will be stopping goals, not scoring them. With Philipp Grubauer as his projected backup, look for Barry Trotz to reduce Holtby’s work load by about five games this season. That could cut his win totals from last season, but the framework has been build for another strong season.

Philipp Grubauer

Age: 23

Games: 49 (AHL)

Wins: 27

Losses: 17

Overtime losses: 2

Shutouts: 6

Goals-against average: 2.30

Save percentage: .921

Minutes: 2,918

2015-16 cap hit: $750,000

Analysis: In the opinion of Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann, Grubauer has accomplished everything he can at the American League level and is ready for the challenge of the NHL. Coupled with the subpar season Justin Peters had last year it is expected Grubauer will earn the role of Holtby’s backup this season, with Peters replacing him in Hershey.

A fourth-round pick of the Caps in 2010, Grubauer has been a picture of consistency since turning pro in 2011. In parts of two seasons in the ECHL he had a GAA of 2.25 and a save percentage of .916. In parts of three AHL seasons he’s had a GAA of 2.37 and a save percentage of .919. And in 20 NHL appearances he has a 2.44 GAA and .924 save percentage.

Projection: Grubauer does not have the puck-handling abilities of Holtby and he’ll work on those in his first full season under the direction of Korn. He is blessed with cat-like reflexes, is capable of making acrobatic saves, and has proven he can handle the pressures of playoff hockey, winning his first and only Stanley Cup appearance in Game 2 against the Islanders. If the Caps can give him close to 20 games this season, they’ll both be happy.

Justin Peters

Age: 28

Games: 12

Wins: 3

Losses: 6

Overtime losses: 1

Minutes: 647

Goals-against average: 3.25

Save percentage: .881

2015-16 cap hit: $950,000

Analysis: Last season was a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg year for Peters. Was he not as sharp as the Capitals wanted because he didn’t play enough? Or did he not play enough because he wasn’t very sharp? Either way, the Caps appear to be moving toward Grubauer and away from Peters, who is entering the final year of a two-year, $1.9 million contract.

Expected to start this season as Hershey’s No. 1 goalie, Peters will be in familiar territory. He has 221 games of AHL experience, where he’s gone 99-96-10 with a 2.71 GAA and .910 save percentage. Comparatively, in 80 games as an NHL backup to Cam Ward and Holtby, he’s gone 25-37-9 with a 3.08 GAA and .901 save percentage.

Projection: Peters should clear waivers and begin the season in Hershey. Barring injuries to Holtby or Grubauer, he should remain in Hershey for most of the season, hoping to resurrect a career that showed more promise 12 months ago.

Dan Ellis

Age: 35

Games: 37 (AHL)

Wins: 22

Losses: 12

Overtime losses: 0

Goals-against average: 2.71

Save percentage: .904

2015-16 cap hit: $575,000  

Analysis: Two days after trading goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley to the Blues in the T.J. Oshie deal, the Caps signed Ellis to a one-year, two-way contract that should bridge a gap while the Caps wait for prospects Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov to develop. Ellis has 12 years of pro experience, including three seasons in Nashville, where he played 110 games under Barry Trotz.

Ellis is no stranger to the AHL or the NHL, playing 195 games in the former and 212 in the latter, including an eight-game stint with the Florida Panthers last season, going 4-3-1.

Projection: While he lacks the consistency to be a starter in the NHL, Ellis has carved a long professional career and will battle Peters for the starting job in Hershey. If he wins that battle, Ellis would move into third on the Caps’ depth chart at goaltender, at least for this season.     

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ VS. BOUDREAU 

 

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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