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Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

As the postseason began, the refrain from Barry Trotz has been how confident he is in both netminders and that the decision on who will start would be on a game-by-game basis. That tone changed sharply on Wednesday in the wake of Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance.

On a conference call with the media, Trotz was asked Wednesday if Holtby would start Game 4.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.

That type of clarity regarding who the Caps netminder is refreshing at this point as uncertainty has followed each of the first two games of the series.

The decision to sit Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer originally was not an easy one. After going through a tough six-week stretch from February to March, Holtby yielded the crease to Grubauer. The German netminder played well down the stretch and Trotz elected to stay with the hot hand to start the playoffs.

"[Holtby] was obviously probably a little disappointed but at the same time he's a total pro and our conversation was good," Trotz said. "The one thing that stands out to me, he says, if I get a chance to come back in the net I'll stop the puck. But I'm in. I understand and I'm ready if you need me."

Hotlby certainly was ready on Tuesday.

Grubauer performance admirably in Game 1 and Game 2, but he could not get the big save when the team needed it as Trotz lamented on Sunday.

The Caps got a number of those key saves from Holtby in Game 3, his first start of the series, as he turned aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced. To be fair, he was bailed out by the post four times in the game, but for the most part, it was a strong performance. When the backup plays well in a loss, it still generates questions on who will play going forward. When the starter comes back into the game and plays well, it erases all doubt as to who the starter will be going forward.

For the first time all series, the question of who will start is finally an easy one for Trotz to answer.

Trotz is also hopeful that Holtby has not only recovered from his struggles, but has improved his game because of them.

"You see it around the league with top goaltenders, they have some of these periods where they have to reset or refine themselves a little bit because it tests you," Trotz said. "This league test you all the time. It changes all the time and you have to change with it a little bit. I think it forced [Holtby] to move forward a little bit, rethink some things and recalibrate his game to the game that's being played in the National Hockey League right now.

"I think it's been a good process for him. I think it's just going to make him a more complete goaltender going forward, a more complete person going forward. It says a lot about  Braden."

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John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

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USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

The Capitals' Stanley Cup run may be even more remarkable than we thought considering there were zero all-stars on Washington's roster apparently.

As part of Wednesday's NHL Awards, the First and Second-Team All-Star rosters were released and not a single Capital made either team.

Here is a look at both teams:

In the interest of full disclosure, the All-Star Teams are voted on by members of the Pro Hockey Writers Association of which I am a member. I did not, however, have a vote for the All-Star rosters.

The first thought most Caps fans will have when looking at these teams is what about Alex Ovechkin?

I'm actually OK with Taylor Hall and Claude Giroux getting the nods at left wing.

Hall won the Hart Trophy for what he was able to accomplish in New Jersey in leading a team that looked like a trash heap before the season to a playoff berth. Compare the Devils' roster to the Caps' and there's no question Hall had a lot less to work with than Ovechkin and tallied 93 points as compared to Ovechkin's 87. Giroux finished second in the NHL with 102 points, one of only three players this season to finish in the triple digits. He very narrowly beat out Ovechkin for Second Team honors.

It was a coin flip and Ovechkin lost. That's not what Caps fans should be crying foul over. The fact that John Carlson was not among the four defensive all-stars is a far more egregious omission for which there is no excuse.

After inexplicably being excluded from the NHL All-Star Game in January, Carlson was snubbed once again as he came in fifth in the voting.

Just what does Carlson have to do to get some recognition?

No defenseman in the entire NHL had more points than Carlson's 68 this season. That's not just because of increased minutes as Carlson finished 13th among defensemen in ice time per game.

But being a good defenseman is not about the offensive stats.

That's right. Now go ahead and show me which of the four who finished ahead of Carlson was partnered with a rookie for most of the season. I'll wait.

The answer is none of them.

It's very easy now to look at the Capitals as a team that had all the pieces in place and managed to put it all together at the right time to go on a Cup run, but that's not what happened this season. Carlson was very heavily relied upon by the Capitals during the regular season when the blue line was an obvious weakness, especially after an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was averaging nearly 30 minutes per game in Niskanen's absence. Carlson also spent the majority of the season with his primary partner being a rookie in Christian Djoos.

Charlie McAvoy was a rookie too. Does that mean Zdeno Chara should have been named an all-star?

A player like McAvoy is very much the exception, not the rule. Djoos has a bright future ahead of him, but his career is not yet at the same level as a player like McAvoy.

With all due respect to the voters, it seems like not enough attention was paid to what the Capitals asked of Carlson this season. His strong play on both ends of the ice made up for a weak defense that was only bolstered by a late trade for Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks just prior to the trade deadline.

If you looked at Carlson's stats and saw just an offensive specialist who was not strong enough in his own end to warrant an all-star spot, then you were not paying close enough attention to the role he played in Washington this season.

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Capitals stars react to losing Barry Trotz as head coach

Capitals stars react to losing Barry Trotz as head coach

LAS VEGAS—Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom weren’t expecting to lose their head coach less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup.

But business is business, Ovi said, and Barry Trotz is handling his by attempting to capitalize on claiming the championship.

“It’s sad,” Ovechkin said on the red carpet at the NHL Awards, where he accepted his seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy on Wednesday night. “Obviously, we won together.”

The Caps’ captain also thanked Trotz for directing him—and his teammates—to new heights.  

“First of all, [I want to] thank him for a great job to be our coach, to be our dad, to give us a chance to win,” Ovechkin said. “But then again, it’s a business. You never know what’s going to happen. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be fine and I wish him luck.”

Backstrom, meanwhile, said he was caught off guard by Trotz’s decision to step down over a contract stalemate with the team. Trotz asked for $5 million per for five seasons; the Caps balked over the terms Trotz’s camp sought.   

“I was a little surprised, obviously,” Backstrom said. “I heard the scenario.”

Like Ovechkin, though, Backstrom praised the job Trotz did during his four-year tenure.

“He’s done a great job in Washington,” Backstrom said. “We obviously have him to thank for a lot. He’s done a tremendous job of schooling us and winning a championship. No one is going to take that away from him.”

Trotz’s next move is unclear, but he’s a free agent and currently eligible to negotiate with any team. The Islanders are the only team with an opening for a head coach.

As for Washington, GM Brian MacLellan said that associate coach Todd Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz.

Ovechkin said he thinks Reirden would be a good fit.

“We all respect Todd,” Ovechkin said. “We all like him. Again, it’s not our thing to say who’s going to be head coach, but if it’s going to be Todd, it’s going to be fun.”

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