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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.”

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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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Capitals make another round of cuts sending several players to Hershey

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USA Today Sports

Capitals make another round of cuts sending several players to Hershey

With Hershey Bears training camp set to start on Monday, the Caps have sent a number of players to the AHL in the latest round of roster cuts. Mathias Bau, Hampus Gustafsson, Beck Malenstyn, Mason Mitchell, Brian Pinho, Kristofers Bindulis, Tobias Geisser have all been returned to Hershey. Grant Besse, who was on an AHL contract, has been returned as well. Mark Simpson has been released from his tryout agreement.

Of the players returned, there are no major surprises. The Caps only have room to add a fourth line center and possibly one or two extra forwards as well as a backup goalie and none of the players listed were in serious contention for taking one of those spots.

The moves cut Washington’s roster down to 43. The maximum roster allowed in-season is 23 players, provided the salaries fit under the $79.5 million salary cap ceiling.

The latest round of cuts still leave up for grabs the fourth line center job as Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd and Jayson Megna still remain on the current roster.

After playing four preseason games, the Caps have three more contests remaining before the start of the season. With plenty of prospects still on the roster, you can expect several of those players to be in the lineup for Tuesday’s game in St. Louis.

“For me, it's really important, really important for the overall direction of our organization to have our young players playing games,” head coach Todd Reirden said Friday. “We have to have them playing games. We can easily put out almost our entire roster to play [Friday’s] game, but that is not where we're at. We're about developing players within our organization, seeing where they're at, gauging the success that maybe they've already had in terms of their careers and seeing whether they're ready for this step or not.

“For the first four games you go through for sure a trial and error and you get to really gauge where your prospects are at. I've always felt strongly about that with young players and given them an opportunity to either stay or leave. It is in their hands. They're making the decisions for me.”

 

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3 players who impressed in the Capitals’ preseason loss to Carolina

3 players who impressed in the Capitals’ preseason loss to Carolina

It was another rough start for the Capitals who not only have lost every preseason game they have played, but have still yet to hold a lead. Washington was only able to put one goal past the Carolina Hurricanes as a 3-1 first period deficit gave way to a 5-1 loss.

Despite the ugly result, however, there were some bright spots. Here are the players who impressed.

Liam O’Brien

In an era where everyone is trying to get faster, it really can make the physical players stand out. O’Brien certainly stood out on Friday and looked like the Caps’ best player. He threw his body around against the Hurricanes, but he wasn’t reckless either. O’Brien’s physicality opened up offense for his line. He finished the game with four hits, but also had six total shot attempts, three of which were on net.

At 24, it is critical for O’Brien to show he still has something to offer at the NHL level as the team adds more and more young prospects. He is unlikely to make the roster, but he is certainly making a case for a call-up this season.

Aaron Ness

Ness had the play of the night for the Capitals with his assist in the first period. He took a pass at the blue line and found some room to work in front of him. He skated up, drew the defense in with a head fake and fed Nicklas Backstrom with the no-look pass. Backstrom netted the easy goal against the fooled Petr Mrazek.

Ness made the Caps out of camp last season and played eight games with the NHL squad. If the Caps are in need of a defenseman for a long-term call-up, some of the prospects are more likely to get the nod over Ness, but he remains a viable call-up for short-term spot duty.

Ilya Samsonov

In the first game of the Prospects Showcase tournament earlier this month, Samsonov had a shaky outing allowing five goals. He followed that game with a 21-save shutout in his second start of the tournament. In his first preseason contest on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, Samsonov allowed two goals on 11 shots and never really looked comfortable. On Friday, however, Samsonov came on for the third period and turned aside six of the seven shots he faced. The lone goal he allowed came on the power play as Valentin Zykov knocked the puck out of a scrum in front of the net to Jaccob Slavin on the back door.

The quick improvement from game to game from Samsonov has been impressive and he looked much more comfortable in net in his second preseason appearance.

Madison Bowey’s pants

Way to block that shot.

 

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