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As Braden Holtby enters a contract year, he is determined not to be a distraction

As Braden Holtby enters a contract year, he is determined not to be a distraction

ARLINGTON, Va. -- An early playoff exit gave way to a long offseason for the Capitals. Though certainly a disappointing end to the team’s quest to defend its Stanley Cup title, goalie Braden Holtby was able to take advantage of the extra rest it offered.

Speaking after an informal skate on Wednesday, Holtby said he feels like he has a little more jump in his step after getting more time to heal and rest.

“There’s an opportunity in everything,” he said.

The extra time off was good to have as Holtby prepares to jump from a long offseason into what will likely be a very long season both physically and mentally.

In addition to returning as the No. 1 goalie for a team hoping to win it’s second Stanley Cup in three years, Holtby is in the final year of his contract. As arguably the best goalie in franchise history and still in his prime, it would seem on the surface that bringing Holtby back would be a no-brainer for general manager Brian MacLellan. Holtby’s situation, however, is made far more complicated by a tight salary cap, the Seattle expansion draft and prospect Ilya Samsonov who is widely regarded as the team’s future starter.

Holtby, however, does not want to think about any of those things.

“Obviously, my goal is to win a Stanley Cup here and everything else, I'm not an agent for a reason,” Holtby said. “I'm a hockey player.”

Hotlby’s future with the Caps became more cloudy when goalie Sergey Bobrovsky signed a massive 10-year, $70 million deal with the Florida Panthers in the offseason. Holtby will be the same age next year as Bobrovsky was this year when he became a free agent. With similar stats, Bobrovsky’s contract is an obvious comparable, but that money will be hard for Washington to fit under the cap.

LIke many, Holtby followed Bobrovsky’s free agency, but his main takeaway was not the term or the money the Russian netminder received, it was how it affected his team.

“We try and keep tabs with what's going on around the league,” Holtby said of Bobrovsky. “I'd like to handle it a little different throughout the year to try and just focus on our team and not let it be a media thing.”

Bobrovsky’s free agency hung over the Columbus Blue Jackets all season creating obvious tension within the team. That tension boiled over in January when Bobrovsky left the bench after getting pulled in a game. He was confronted by teammates and benched by the team for a game as a result.

Columbus rebounded to just barely squeeze into the playoffs and upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, but fell short again of their ultimate goal with a second-round loss to the Boston Bruins.

Holtby does not want to see that happen in Washington.

Even entering a contract year, Holtby stressed that his focus is not on himself or his future, but rather the team and winning a Cup. That is a sentiment he has stressed to both his agent, David Kaye, and MacLellan.

“I think that's pretty universal between myself, Dave and Mac,” Holtby said. “These things are a part of every year, different player or whatever, but the number one thing is to not let it be a distraction and go out and win games.”

For a starting goalie, however, keeping this from becoming a distraction is easier said than done. But while Bobrovsky had already determined the prior year that he would be moving on, Holtby made clear he wants to remain with the Capitals.

“This is all I know here,” Holtby said of Washington. “I’d love [to re-sign]. I think that’s pretty clear. But you don’t worry about that stuff. I’m lucky enough to be here for at least right now so happy for that.”

To that end, Holtby believes Kaye is set to meet with MacLellan soon about a possible extension. How realistic a return ultimately ends up being remains to be seen. But even if Holtby realizes that and has started internally moving on from Washington, he shows no sign of it. He has one focus right now and that is enjoying another season with the Caps and trying to win a second Cup.

“It's just one of those things, you let the business side of it take care of it and you focus on your job,” Holtby said. “I'm lucky enough to be under contract for another year to play hockey here so it's pretty fortunate and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity with a great team coming back.”

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Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Ilya Samsonov had his best NHL performance on Saturday in a big 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Capitals got contributions from players all over the lineup in a big win.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Everyone is pitching in

Look at Saturday's game and Wednesday's game. Whatever the Caps needed, they were able to get. Against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they needed a key coach's challenge and the video coaches delivered. They needed someone to take over the game and T.J. Oshie delivered. They needed a big night from the penalty kill and Carl Hagelin and Co. delivered. They needed a response to Boston's tying goal and John Carlson delivered.

Now look at Saturday's game. Ilya Samsonov got the start and he delivered when the Caps had a slow start to the game. The fourth line settled everything down and Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover behind the net to give Washington the lead. The bottom-six scored twice to give Washington control, Oshie scored a quick response goal when Tampa Bay tried to battle back and the penalty kill delivered again.

The Caps are not being carried by Ovechkin, it's not a hot goalie or a dominant blue line, it is a complete team effort and it is extremely impressive to watch.

Samsonov had his best NHL game

We knew Samsonov and Braden Holtby were going to split the weekend's games for the dad's trip. I expected Holtby would get the tougher game in Tampa Bay, but instead Todd Reirden went with Samsonov. The rookie had three brilliant saves in the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay was the better team for the first two periods and Samsonov only gave up one goal in those 40 minutes. This was a big boy offense and some big boy hockey. Samsonov was up to the task.

Good penalty kill, too many penalties

The Lightning entered this game with the second-best power play in the NHL. Limiting penalties was a big key to the game for Washington and...they did not do that. The Caps gave up five power play opportunities to Tampa Bay, just daring the Lighting offense to take fire. Tampa Bay was only able to cash in only once.

On the one hand, it's great that the penalty kill is playing so well. On the other hand, the Caps must stop taking so many penalties.

Time to Panik?

I have stressed the importance of patience for Richard Panik who is not only adjusting to a new team, but who had an injury and missed 10 games on LTIR. Now, however, it seems like patience is starting to run out.

Panik played a team-low 8:10 on Saturday. Players who get that little ice time are usually either fourth line players or players who do not contribute to special teams. Panik is supposed to be a penalty killer, but despite five penalty kill opportunities, he registered only 14 seconds of shorthanded ice time.

Panik's offensive struggles have been well documented (he had an assist on Saturday), but if he is not contributing on the penalty kill either...well, that's an issue.

Turning point

Tampa Bay looked like the better team for the first 40 minutes. Thanks to Samsonov, the game was tied at 1 at the start of the third. These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL, but it was Washington's bottom-six that gave them the edge as Lars Eller scored early in the third and Garnet Hathaway added a second goal just 45 seconds later.

Suddenly the Lightning were on their heels after looking in control for the majority of the game.

Play of the game

Just when the Caps took the one-goal lead, Hathaway came swooping in to make it 3-1.

Stat of the game

The Caps' PK had a success rate of only 78.9-percent last season. This is a dramatic improvement.

Quote of the game

John Hathaway, father or Garnet, stole the show between the first and second period:

"I think as parents, we try to teach them like two lessons as kids growing up. It's like, if you can dream it, you can do it and never, never, never give up. The dads are here tonight and I think they're not only so proud of their sons, but they're happy for their sons because they know that they had big dreams, they dared to dream big and they never gave up."

Fan predictions

Hey, two for two.

No Ovechkin goal, but you got the score right.

Eller with a big goal tonight assisted by Panik.

Backstrom had only two, but just a few games removed from returning from injury, he looks like he hasn't missed any time at all out there.

This bit will never get old to me.

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Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Ilya Samsonov got the difficult assignment on Saturday of playing on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He proved to be up to the challenge with a brilliant performance in net, leading the Capitals to the 5-2 victory, their second win over the Lightning in 16 days.

Here is how Washington won.

Ilya Samsonov

There's no question who the player of this game was. Samsonov was brilliant in this game. He had an immediate impact as the Lightning came out firing. Samsonov robbed Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev all in the first five minutes of the game.

Samsonov did not fade down the stretch either. Tampa Bay dominated in the second period and Samsonov turned aside 10 of the 11 shots he faced. For the game, he stopped 26 out of 28.

The fourth line and top line team up

The Lightning were all over Washington at the start of the game and Samsonov was the only reason Tampa Bay did not take advantage. A really strong shift by the fourth line for Washington seemed to settle everything down. Soon after, the Caps were celebrating a 1-0 lead.

Defenseman Jan Rutta had the puck behind the net. Ondrej Palat came wheeling around for the handoff and Alex Ovechkin saw him coming. As Palat wheeled one way, Ovechkin came charging the other. That forced Rutta to flub the pass and the puck bounced right in front of the net to a wide-open Nicklas Backstrom who fired it into the net.

Incidental contact

Tampa Bay thought they had the tie early in the second when Carter Verhaeghe finally got one past Samsonov, but the goal was immediately waved off for goalie interference.

Mathieu Joseph and John Carlson were battling in the defensive zone when Joseph was skated into Samsonov. He was not necessarily pushed, but he and Carlson battled their way into the Caps' netminder, which did not allow Samsonov the chance to defend against Verhaeghe's shot.

You never know what can happen with a goalie interference call, but in this case the referee got it right. It was no goal for incidental contact and no penalty for goalie interference.

The bottom-six

These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL. But that's not all it takes to win in the NHL and the Caps' showed off their depth in the third period, which really proved to be the difference.

With the game tied at one, Dmitry Orlov made a great play at the offensive blue line to get the puck over to Richard Panik despite the immediate pressure he faced. Panik set up Lars Eller who one-timed it past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Just 45 seconds later the fourth line came streaking down the ice and Brendan Leipsic teed up Garnet Hathaway, who took it in on net and chipped it through Vasileskiy.

Those two quick goals suddenly turned the game on its head. To that point, the Lightning had been the better team. After that, the Caps were dominant.

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