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Capitals coach Todd Reirden declares starting goalie 'Holtby's job to lose' for playoffs

Capitals coach Todd Reirden declares starting goalie 'Holtby's job to lose' for playoffs

Heading into an unprecedented postseason, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden will have to make several key decisions for his team. Among the most important is how to manage the goaltenders and for now, Braden Holtby remains the No. 1.

Who should be the team's starter has been a question for much of the season, not just now heading into the playoffs. The incumbent, Braden Holtby, had an incredibly slow start to the season calling into question whether or not the team would be better off giving backup Ilya Samsonov more starts. Samsonov is seen as the future starter in net for Washington and had an incredibly strong start. The long season seemed to wear Samsonov down before the pause, however, which is not unexpected for a goalie in whom the most games he has played in a season is 37 which he did last year with the Hersey Bears.

For Reirden, the starting goalie is set...for now.

"Going into it’s Braden Holtby’s job to lose and I feel confident in him,' Reirden said Monday in a video conference. "I felt confident with where things were going right before the pause in terms of how his game was coming around and I think he’ll get the first crack at it."

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From October through January, Holtby had struggled significantly with a .896 save percentage and 3.11 GAA. Samsonov had a .925 save percentage and 2.12 GAA during the same stretch. The roles were reversed from the start of February up until the league paused the season on March 12. During that time, Holtby had a .901 save percentage and 3.08 GAA. That's not great, but was an improvement on his season and drastically better than Samsonov's .869 save percentage and 4.34 GAA during that same stretch. During that time, Samsonov had a record of 0-4-1.

"Braden Holtby’s body of work in playoff games speaks for itself and how he definitely helped our team to win our first-ever Stanley Cup and was a huge, huge part of that," Reirden said. "So, I’m happy to see that Braden’s back here in town and will be working with our goalie coach coming up later this week when we’re allowed to have staff join these sessions."

But while Holtby will be the No. 1, Reirden stressed the importance of having all the goalies ready to play, and not just Samsonov.

"The one thing that I’ve taken all of this is we’ve got to be adaptable and be ready to adjust to anything that can happen, and lots of things can go awry, especially in the way that this NHL is going to be played out," Reirden said. "So we need to have both of our goalies be ready and on top of that our third and fourth goalies be ready to play."

While Pheonix Copley had previously confirmed he would be a black ace, this would seem to suggest Vitek Vanecek will be joining the team for the playoffs as well.

Whether all of the preparation for the backup goalies would happen in training camp and exhibition games or in the round-robin remains to be seen.

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As one of the top-four seeds in the conference, Washington will get to play in three round-robin games to determine seeding before the team gets into a playoff series.  This offers the team three competitive games to potentially get different players into the lineup.

Reirden was non-committal when asked if Samsonov would get a start in one of the team's three round-robin games. 

"It's something that we're gonna want to get both Braden and Ilya the proper starts and the proper reps, and for that matter, we also need to make sure that if we are choosing to have our four goalies here with Copley and Vanecek, that they're prepared too," Reirden said. "So it all goes into our process. You don't know how deep you're gonna need your roster to be. But the way I see it, you're gonna need a lot of players and it's important that all of our players are ready and when they get that opportunity they're able to take advantage of it."

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Ovechkin's 2 goals aren't enough as Caps fall in Game 2 to Islanders

Ovechkin's 2 goals aren't enough as Caps fall in Game 2 to Islanders

The Capitals got two goals from Alex Ovechkin, but did not get much from anyone else and were dominated 5-2 by the New York Islanders in Game 2 on Friday. Washington now trails 2-0 in the series.

Here are four reasons why the Caps lost.

No composure

At the start of Game 1, the Islanders had no composure, took too many penalties and the Caps took advantage. This time it was the other way around with the Caps completely losing their composure over the course of the game.

Jakub Vrana was given an early slashing call (more on him later). Tom Wilson hit Ryan Pulock then gave him an unnecessary elbow after the hit which sent him to the box. Just 21 seconds after the Caps gave up a breakaway, go-ahead goal to Brock Nelson, Garnet Hathaway was called for boarding Matt Martin and was hauled off to the box by the linesman with his gloves off looking to fight someone. The team also took two too many men penalties.

Giving up five power-play opportunities in a playoff game is playing with fire and the Caps' perfect penalty kill was finally pierced by Nick Leddy early in the second. The penalty kill had killed off 14 straight power plays to start the postseason prior to Leddy's goal.

It wasn't just the penalties as mistakes were rampant throughout the game. Washington just seemed to become unglued as the game went along while the Islanders kept their composure, kept their system and kept their lead in the series.

A defensive zone turnover

While the Islanders are a team known for their defensive, they can be aggressive in the offensive zone when they see an opportunity. With the game tied at 1 in the second period, Lars Eller picked up a rebound from Braden Holtby and retreated behind the net. While there were three red jerseys in front of the net, none reacted as two Islanders pressured Eller. With nowhere to go, Eller tried to swing the puck along the boards. Defenseman Scott Mayfield pinched down into the offensive zone to pick up the puck and he fed to Matt Martin on the doorstep for the goal. The defensive zone turnover caught Washington's defense out of position and Martin was by himself in front of Holtby ready for the puck.

A mistake at the blue line

It has not been a good postseason for Jakub Vrana, and it got worse on Friday. Ovechkin had just scored his second of the game to tie it at 2. With the Caps in the offensive zone, Vrana grabbed the puck at the blue line and, with his back towards the goal, tried to swing around and pass the puck off. But with his back to the play, Vrana did not see Brock Nelson coming. Nelson stole the puck away and was off to the races, scoring the breakaway goal just 15 seconds after Ovechkin tied the game.

You have to be very careful with the puck at the offensive blue line because there is no one behind you. All five players are in the offensive zone at that point so as soon as Nelson stole it, it was an easy breakaway. That was horrible puck management from Vrana who did not play again in the second period.

A suffocating 3rd period

Washington entered the third period down 3-2. The start of the period was promising as the Caps drew two penalties and generated some pressure, but the Islanders really took over as the period went along and completely and utterly dominated.

New York plays a completely suffocating style and that was on full display late in the third when Washington, still trailing by one, could not get it out of their own zone. I'm not saying that to be dramatic, I mean they could not get the puck out of their own zone. The Islanders won every puck battle and put on a clinic keeping the puck away from Washington, eventually leading to an insurance tally from Cal Clutterbuck and an empty-netter from Anders Lee.

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Alex Ovechkin passes Sidney Crosby for most playoff goals since 2008

Alex Ovechkin passes Sidney Crosby for most playoff goals since 2008

Alex Ovechkin’s first-period goal didn’t just give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead over the Islanders – it knocked Sidney Crosby off his throne too.

Ovechkin’s score became his 66th career playoff goal. Since his postseason debut in 2008, the Great Eight now ranks first in the league in playoff goals and passed Crosby with 65.

Just 56 seconds into Game 2 of the Capitals’ first-round playoff series with the Islanders, Ovi controlled a loose puck that bounced off his skate, setting up an unassisted backhander that slipped past Semyon Varlamov for the early lead. 

The goal was his first of the playoffs, and he loved every bit of it.

In all-time playoff goals, Ovechkin now ties for 20th in the NHL with Joe Nieuwendyk and Denis Savard and trails Crosby who ranks 19th overall with 68 goals. Ovi didn’t make his playoff debut until the 2007-2008 season while Crosby had the edge with a 2006-2007 appearance and racked up two more career tallies. 

However, with the Penguins now eliminated from the playoffs, Ovechkin has a shot at passing Crosby once again.

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