Capitals goalie Braden Holtby faced three shots in Monday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. All three went in.
That’s no way to start a game. Before the contest was eight minutes old Washington was down 3-0. Holtby knew what was coming. His day was done before it really even started. The frustration was evident as he skated off the ice to be replaced by rookie Ilya Samsonov.
“You need to fight harder to find that first one and find a way to make a save on either of the second ones,” Holtby said. “It's unacceptable on my half and the last few games here, I feel like I've put a lot of that weight on my shoulders and it's something I really need to get better at. Because we fought hard and I just need to be better."
Holtby took the blame. Hard to make him shoulder all of it given that his teammates started slowly against a very good team. Colorado is now 5-0-0 after its 6-3 win at Capital One Arena.
Holtby probably could have stopped Erik Johnson’s slap shot from just inside the blueline 3:42 into the game. A nice screen in front by former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky made the puck hard to see. Still, it’s one Holtby would like back.
At 6:00 of the first period Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen beat Capitals defenseman John Carlson to a clearing attempt and found defenseman Nikita Zadorov in front of the goal with a nice pass. Jonas Siegenthaler was nowhere to be found to cover for Carlson. Holtby was left out to dry.
Just 1:54 later, Washington defenseman Tyler Lewington failed to read a cross-ice pass on a rush up ice by Jonas Donskoi. He hit Nazem Kadri in stride entering the offensive zone. Lewington was already beat by the time he realized what had happened. So was Holtby, who was faced with an oncoming skater on the left wing with no one in front to stop him
"I just gotta find a way. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."
No one is suggesting Holtby’s job status is in jeopardy. He is 14 months removed from a brilliant two months that helped Washington win the Stanley Cup in 2018 and he’s been a mainstay in net since 2012. But the numbers are rough through five games. Holtby has an .846 save percentage, 45thin the NHL. He has stopped 99 of 117 shots.
“It's a team. We're a team. Our players are accountable to themselves, to one another,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That's good that Braden said that and I'm sure there are some things that he would like to have done different. But there are some things that a lot of us will like to have done different. We're in this together and that's something that hasn't been a problem to start and it was tonight.”
Reirden did acknowledge, though, that Samsonov was playing well enough to give the coaching staff something to think about. He’s been solid. Expect Holtby to start Wednesday against the talented, skilled Toronto Maple Leafs as Washington looks for its first home win. But it’s a situation to monitor with Holtby in the final year of his contract and Samsonov the organization’s top prospect.
Samsonov has 68 saves on 72 shots (.951 save percentage). But he is a rookie and that number is unsustainable for any goalie. He also showed his youth in the third period with a bad giveaway behind the net that Colorado easily converted into a goal. It didn’t seem to matter much at the time. The Avalanche took a 5-2 lead. It mattered a lot when Washington scored a late goal to cut the deficit to 5-3 and had another wiped away on video review.
“Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."
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