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Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Last season was by far Braden Holtby’s worst in the NHL.

With a .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA, Holtby was not even considered the starter for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. While his overall numbers were low, things really spiraled at the start of February.

From February 2 to March 6, Holtby managed a save percentage of only .878 and gave up a whopping 4.32 GAA. It was the worst stretch of his professional career.

There have been many theories as to the cause of Holtby’s struggles. From 2012-13 through last season, only one goalie played in more games than Holtby’s 340. After Philipp Grubauer took over, Holtby thrived in the postseason.

But neither goalie coach Scott Murray or Braden Holtby believe the issue was fatigue.

“You don't want to overuse a No. 1 guy, but [Holtby’s] a guy that has proven he can play some games and be productive,” Murray said.

The real issue, in Holtby’s mind, was the changing culture of the NHL and its focus on offense.

“It's a skill-based league now, not a toughness based league,” Holtby told NBC Sports Washington. “I see that in the league trying to take players out that play a physical game. It's hard. It's strange for us that grew up kind of loving that game because of the toughness and the heart that it took and different ways to win games. It's hard to see that kind of softness come through. That's one of those things I struggled with last year and I think you grow up and try and just ignore it and control your own game.”

It’s no secret that the NHL is trying to increase scoring with changes such as making goalie pads and pants smaller and referees calling games tighter leading to more penalties and less physical play. The league’s efforts seem to be working - in the 2017-18 season, the average goals scored per team jumped up by 10 percent.

Here are the average goals per game per team in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through 2016-17:

2010-11: 2.79
2011-12: 2.73
2012-13: 2.72
2013-14: 2.74
2014-15: 2.73
2015-16: 2.71
2016-17: 2.77

In every season during that stretch, the average fell between 2.71-2.79. In the 2017-18 season, however, that average jumped up all the way up to 2.97.

Successful NHL goalies are expected to have a save percentage over .910 and a GAA below 2.50. But what happens when that standard changes? For Holtby, he struggled to evaluate his own performance. He felt he was playing well, but the numbers told a different story.

“That was one of the real challenges last year, especially through the first four months or so,” Holtby said. “We try to evaluate it every game the same based on every play and not how the game is and it felt that, both [Murray], [goaltending director Mitch Korn] and I felt that I was playing better than I had years passed and the numbers just weren't obviously showing that and it became frustrating and that started to creep in my game. That's kind of a main reason why you saw the drop off in February.”

If the issue was not fatigue, however, then why was time off the solution?

According to Murray, it wasn’t.

“It's always good to have rest, but I think more importantly he had to reinvent himself a little bit and reestablish his foundation that got him here in the first place which is a blue-collar attitude,” Murray said. “I'm going to work and I'm going to stick to what I'm good at, my habits and make sure they're good and let some of the outside stuff go. I think that was just as important as rest, kind of that reset button and understanding who he was and what got him there and getting back to that.”

It’s an important lesson that Holtby will have to remember for this season as scoring has jumped up yet again even over last season. In the first month of play, the average number of goals per game per team has climbed to 3.10. Should that trend stick, it will be the first time the average has gone over 3.00 since 2005-06.

“You know there's going to be more goals, more chances,” Holtby said. “Just focus on every play and just leave out the rest because those are things you just can't control. That's just life.”

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How to watch Capitals vs. Islanders Game 2

How to watch Capitals vs. Islanders Game 2

After getting out to an early lead in Game 1, a few critical mistakes led to the Capitals falling to the New York Islanders 4-2 to begin their Stanley Cup run.

Now, in Game 2, Washington will look to get back on track and even the series. A physical Game 1 means more fireworks are probably in store for Friday.

You're not going to want to miss this one. Here's how to watch. 

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS HOW TO WATCH 

What: No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders
Where: Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada 
When: 8:00 PM ET 
TV Channel: Capitals vs. Islanders will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.
Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs. Islanders on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the MyTeams App.

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS TV SCHEDULE

7:00 PM: Caps Pregame Live (LIVE)

8:00 PM: Capitals vs. Islanders (LIVE)

10:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live (LIVE)

RELATED: GAME 2 PREVIEW

CAPITALS VS. ISLANDERS SCHEDULE (ISLANDERS LEAD 1-0)

Game 1: Wednesday, August 12, 4:04 p.m. (Islanders Win 4-2)

Game 2: Thursday, August 14, 8:00 p.m.

Game 3: Sunday, August 16, 12:00 p.m.

Game 4: Tuesday, August 18, 8:00 p.m.

Game 5: (If necessary) Thursday, August 20, TBD

Game 6: (If necessary) Saturday, August 22, TBD

Game 7: (If necessary) Sunday, August 23, TBD

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS WHAT TO WATCH 

Braden Holtby took the blame for the Game 1 loss, and Washington will need him to rebound on Friday. Goaltending may be the most crucial aspect of playoff hockey and Washington is hoping they can rely on Holtby for one last deep run.

Anders Lee's hit on Nicklas Backstrom was the talk of Game 1. It was a reason Backstrom had to exit and will not play in Game 2 as he enters the concussion protocol. Both teams were very physical for the rest of the matchup and that should continue on Friday with tensions rising. 

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS PLAYERS TO WATCH 

T.J. Oshie (26 goals, 23 assists, 49 points): Oshie was the Capitals' only source of offense on Wednesday. With two goals early on he set the tone and showed that he has a knack for showing up in the big moments. Though the Caps will need others to help, it's always good to have Oshie putting the puck in the net. 

Mathew Barzal (19 goals, 41 assists, 60 points): Barzal didn't net a goal in Game 1, but he didn't need to. His presence was still felt on offense, however, as he recorded two assists on the afternoon. If he can continue to distribute, and score every once in a while, the Capitals could be in trouble.

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Barry Trotz brushes off Todd Reirden's 'predatory' comment on the hit to Nicklas Backstrom

Barry Trotz brushes off Todd Reirden's 'predatory' comment on the hit to Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom was injured on a late hit delivered by New York Islanders captain Anders Lee in Game 1 on Wednesday and the Capitals made it known after the game that they did not like the hit at all.  Head coach Todd Reirden provided some of the strongest comments as he called the hit "predatory."

"It was a late hit on an unexpected player that was in a spot [where] he was extremely vulnerable," Reirden said. "So those are some things we saw there. It’s as simple as that. Like I said, late hit, the player wasn’t expecting it and it’s predatory.”

Given a chance to respond on Friday, however, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz brushed aside Reirden's comments.

"Not really," Trotz said when asked if he had a response. "[The Department of Player Safety] looks at it, they've got good hockey people. Todd was doing what you expect a coach to do, is defend his player. I don't have anything on that reaction at all."

RELATED: LOSING BACKSTROM 'HUGE TROUBLE' FOR CAPS

Backstrom is in the league's concussion protocol as a result of the hit and will not play in Game 2. That is sure to irk the Caps even further after Lee received no supplemental discipline from the league.

"I definitely think it's fuel for the fire in a way," Tom Wilson said. "Obviously we didn't like the hit. Nicky is our star player. He's a leader for us. You never want to see a guy go down, especially a guy like that. We're going to do our best to play for him, and step in."

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