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Braden Holtby pegs mental fatigue, not physical, as the root of his struggles

Braden Holtby pegs mental fatigue, not physical, as the root of his struggles

It’s no secret what the biggest question surrounding the Washington Capitals is right now: What happened to Braden Holtby?

Since Feb. 2, Holtby has been pulled four times in 11 starts with a .872 save percentage and 4.45 GAA. For a goalie whose career has been marked by consistently great play and who has won a Vezina Trophy after being a finalist in each of the past two seasons, those are staggering numbers.

Now with Holtby set to make his first start since March 6, he sounds very confident that he has put those problems behind him.

“It was obviously good to clear your mind and step back,” Holtby said after Friday’s morning skate. “It makes it a lot better when we had success while that was going on. That makes it easier to just focus on regrouping and just working on a few things a couple days in practice.”

RELATED: 2018 CAPS PLAYOFF PROJECTION

Some have speculated, including former Capitals goalie Brent Johnson, that perhaps fatigue was the cause of his struggles.

Since the 2014-15 season, no goalie has played in more games than Holtby’s 250. Even after Philipp Grubauer’s recent stretch of starts, Holtby still has played in six more games than the closest goalie, Boston netminder Tuukka Rask.

On Friday, Hotlby admitted there was some fatigue, but that it was all mental, not physical.

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” he said. “If you're fatigued physically, that's on you. That's not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up. Just that little extra fire that you have, sometimes you take things for granted and you go through the motions a bit, which you never want to do because we're in a pretty lucky situation playing in the NHL, but human nature kind of takes over sometimes.”

Holtby further explained his mental fatigue was from, “trying to be too perfect, trying to play outside my means I guess and that's something that never really goes well. I think just the adjustment from the start of the season until now, I think I was just putting a little bit too much pressure on myself and that usually wears on you and exhausts you in the end. I think that's a good lesson to learn.”

Luckily for Washington, Holtby’s current struggles have not hurt the team. Philipp Grubauer has been phenomenal in Holtby’s stead and, in fact, has statistically been one of the top netminders in the league.

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Since Nov. 1, among goalies who have played at least 20 games, Grubauer’s .937 save percentage and 1.88 GAA both rank as the best in the NHL.

For some, this means there is now a goalie controversy in Washington. For Holtby, however, he actually now feels less pressure than before because of Grubauer’s success.

“[Grubauer’s] been outstanding for us,” Holtby said, “This little stretch here, he's held our team together and got us some key wins. That takes a lot of pressure off the rest of us.”

That may be surprising to hear considering Grubauer is making a legitimate case to be the team’s starter heading into the postseason. But Holtby isn’t thinking about that. In fact, thinking too much about the future is exactly why he struggled so much in the first place.

All Holtby is thinking about now is the game in front of him.

“I think tonight's more just the moment at hand,” he said. “Don't worry about past or future or whatever. It's just getting back to being comfortable out there and just playing. You're out there to compete and compete for your team and that's it.”

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4 things to know for the Capitals’ matchup against undefeated Colorado

4 things to know for the Capitals’ matchup against undefeated Colorado

The Capitals (3-1-2) snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday and will look to stay in the win column on Monday in a game against the Colorado Avalanche (4-0-0). You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 4 p.m. before Caps Pregame Live begins at 4:30 p.m. to bring you up to the 5 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here are four things to know for Saturday’s game.

Colorado is undefeated

The Avalanche is one of two teams left in the NHL that has not suffered a loss of any kind. Of their four wins, only one of them was not in regulation and that also happened to be the only game Philipp Grubauer did not play in net.

All four wins also happen to be at home as Monday’s game will be Colorado’s first on the road this season.

Washington will face former Caps Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer

Things seem to be going well in Burakovsky’s first season with the Avalanche. The winger has two goals and two assists in four games and has scored the game-winner in each of the past two games.

Burakovsky was a restricted free agent in the offseason and his contract carried a large qualifying offer which the Caps could not afford. The team traded his rights to  Colorado for a second and a third-round draft pick as well as a prospect on an expiring contract.

In net, Grubauer enters his second season with Colorado and first as the undisputed starter of the team. He earned the job after last year’s playoff performance in which he won seven games, posted a .925 save percentage and brought the Avalanche to within one win of advancing to the conference final.

In three games this season, Grubauer is 3-0-0 with a .931 save percentage.

The best line in hockey?

Colorado boasts one of the top lines, if not the outright best line in hockey with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. All three players have had their fair share of success against Washington in their careers.

Landeskog has scored 14 points in just 13 games against the Caps, MacKinnon has 13 points in 11 games and Rantanen has seven points in five games.

The Caps have historically been a difficult matchup for Colorado

Washington’s last three games were against the Dallas Stars (twice) and the Nashville Predators, two teams the Caps have not fared well against historically. The roles are reversed for Monday’s game as this time it's the Caps who have been the thorn in the side of their opponent.

Colorado has lost nine of its last 10 meetings with Washington with its last win coming back on Nov. 16, 2017. The last win before was four years prior in November 2013.

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How to watch Capitals vs. Avalanche: Time, TV channel, live stream

How to watch Capitals vs. Avalanche: Time, TV channel, live stream

The Washington Capitals bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Nashville Predators, where they gave up four leads in a 6-5 contest, with a commanding 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night to end a three-game losing skid. Now, they welcome the Colarado Avalanche to town Monday night. 

The Avalanche have gotten off to a perfect 4-0 start this season, a record which was preserved in a 3-2 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night. Ex-Capitals left winger Andre Burakovsky netted the game-winner while goaltender Pavel Francouz stopped 34 of 36 shots. 

Washington's John Carlson notched a goal and an assist while Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his second goal of the year in the win against Dallas, while Ilya Samsonov impressed in his second career start in net. He's now stopped 49 of the first 51 shots faced in his young NHL career. The Caps will look for their key contributors to perform against the undefeated visitors.

Here's everything you need to know about Monday evening's game, with the opening face-off coming at 5:00 p.m. live on NBC Sports Washington.  

Capitals vs. Avalanche: How to watch

What: Washington Capitals vs. Colarado Avalanche, Game 7 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C. 

When: Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs. Avalanche game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports channel finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals at Predators on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

RadioCaps 24/7 Radio

CAPITALS vs. AVALANCHE TV SCHEDULE

4:00 PM: Caps FaceOff Live

4:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

5:00 PM: Avalanche @ Capitals Live

7:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

8:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

8:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

Capitals vs. Avalanche Injury Report

Capitals: D Michal Kempny, hamstring injury, day-to-day

Avalanche: C J.T. Compher, lower body, day-to-day; D Ian Cole, hamstring, day-to-day

CAPITALS vs. Avalanche PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Michal Kempny, D, Washington Capitals: The defender could make his season debut as he recovers from a hamstring injury. He felt good after an optional practice on Sunday and said if he doesn't play Monday, he'll be back soon enough. His return will bring a boost to the defensive backline for the Caps. 

John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals (2 G, 8 A, 10 Pts): Carlson has been quite the provider from up top on offense, leading the NHL in assists along with points leader Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. Nobody else has more than four assists on the Capitals. 

Andre Burakovsky, LW, Colarado Avalanche (2 G, 2 A, 4 Pts): Burakovsky not only scored the game-winner Saturday night against Arizona, but also nothed an assist and had four shots on goal. After spending his first five seasons in the nation's capital, the Avalanche traded second and third-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft and forward Scott Kosmachuk for his services in June. 

CAPITALS vs. AVALANCHE SERIES HISTORY 

Number of meetings: 85

All-time series record: Caps lead 44-32-9

Last meeting: Caps won 4-3 (OT) (4/7/19)

Last 10: Caps lead 9-1

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