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Braden Holtby critical of his performance Saturday night

Braden Holtby critical of his performance Saturday night

Caps Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that Braden Holtby wasn’t “as sharp as he can be” in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Penguins.  

Trotz also said he hasn’t given any thought to his Game 3 starter.

“Way too early to talk about that,” Trotz said, asked if he planned to return to Holtby on Monday night. “I haven’t really thought about it at all.”

Holtby allowed three goals on nine second period shots in Game 2 and was pulled at the intermission. Saturday's performance followed a Game 1 effort in which he allowed three goals on 21 shots and a first round series that saw him surrender 14 goals in the first four games.

RELATED: 3 observations: Missed opportunity leads to tough questions

Philipp Grubauer entered Saturday’s game at the start of the third period and promptly allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced.    

“I thought we just had to chance the mojo in that situation,” Trotz said of pulling Holtby. “He’ll tell you he could be better…and he will be.”

Pressed on what he thought of Holtby’s night, Trotz added: “I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. And when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit, that’s all.”

“Braden is our backbone and he has been all year,”Trotz continued. “We got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby. We got to find some goals in our room right now, and we haven’t found enough.”

Holtby said he didn’t like the Penguins’ third goal, scored by Jake Guentzel, who finished a 2-on-1, sniping a shot over his left pad and under his glove.

“The playoffs are made of big moments and on that third goal, that’s a big moment,” Holtby said. “That’s where your goalie needs to come up with a save and I just didn’t. Obviously, I was frustrated that I didn’t do that.”

Through eight playoff games, Holtby has a .911 save percentage—13th out of the 14 goalies who’ve played at least 5 postseason games. Holtby entered the playoffs with the best postseason save percentage in league history at .938.

So, yeah, it’s fair to say that none of this was expected...getting pulled as the Caps fight for their postseason lives or being asked by a reporter whether he thinks he'll be in net for the next game. 

“I expect to start every game until I’m told otherwise,” an exasperated Holtby said.

MORE CAPITALS: Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps fall 6-2

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Not enough grit and not enough power from Capitals in Winnipeg

Not enough grit and not enough power from Capitals in Winnipeg

The Capitals were shutout for the first time since Dec. 16 as they failed to build off their two-game win streak. Connor Hellebuyck was tough to beat, but did the Caps do enough to get to him?

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

This team has to play physically to win

If you want to know the importance of physical play, compare this game to the last few the Caps have played. The Caps did not dictate the physical play in this game nearly as much as they had in their last two wins and it was very noticeable. You have to take the "hit totals" with a grain of salt because it varies from building to building, but in this game the Caps out-hit Winnipeg 17-16. On Tuesday, Washington led in hits 25-17. In Tuesday's win, the Caps used the physical play to dictate the game as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead. They just did not do that at all on Thursday.

Make life difficult for the goalie

Give all the credit in the world to Hellebuyck, he was great. He was on his game and seeing the puck really well. When that happens, the Caps have got to make life more difficult for him. It felt like there was not enough traffic in front of Hellebuyck and not enough battling to win rebounds. It was going to take an ugly goal to beat him and it looked like the Caps could not deliver that. You can't always win with skill, sometimes you have to get dirty.

Turning point

Down 1-0 late in the second period, Washington got its first power play of the game when Neal Pionk was called for hooking Alex Ovechkin. Just three seconds after Pionk's penalty expired, Anthony Bitetto was caught hooking Ilya Kovalchuk giving the Caps almost four continuous minutes of power play time. Washington could not take advantage and suddenly when the team headed into the locker room it was clear Hellebuyck was going to be tough to beat.

Play of the game

Hellebuyck was great, but the save of the night came from Ilya Samsonov when he denied Jack Roslovic with the toe.

Stat of the game

Hellebuyck's performance overshadowed what Samsonov was able to do, but he had a solid night overall as well.

Quote of the game

Considering all the talent on this roster, it is always staggering when the Caps get shut out. It happens to everyone, the league is really good and really tough, but it is still surprising. The players feel the same way.


Fan predictions

You got the one from Dmitry Kulikov, but that was it.

The dream was over 23 seconds into the game as Patrik Laine took a puck off the heel and was forced to leave the game.

He got really close from the Ovechkin spot on the power play.

They have to score to do that.

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Capitals' offense can't take off in shutout loss to Jets

Capitals' offense can't take off in shutout loss to Jets

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck shut the Capitals' offense down with 33 saves on Thursday, handing Washington its first shutout loss since Dec. 16.  The Caps saw their brief two-game win streak end in disappointing fashion as they failed to show the same offensive burst or physical dominance they had in recent games.

Here is how the Caps lost.

A distance shot

Ilya Samsonov turned aside 29 of the 31 shots he faced, but the first goal he allowed was one he will probably want back.

Dmitry Kulikov set up shop at the blue line and fired a slap shot that wired into the top corner over the blocker of Samsonov. Nicklas Backstrom came out to challenge Kulikov and provided a bit of a screen, but from that distance and with no deflection, that's one Washington needs its goalie to grab.

Overall, it was a really solid game for Samsonov, but this is one he needed.

Connor Hellebuyck

One reason why Kulikov's early goal loomed large was because Washington just could not solve Winnipeg's netminder. Hellebuyck stopped all 33 shots he faced for the shutout.

The Caps had chances, but you would like to see a bit more traffic in front of the net to make life harder for Hellebuyck. He was seeing the puck really well and it was going to take more traffic, more screens, more deflections to beat him on Thursday. Washington needed an ugly goal and couldn't get it.

The power play

The Caps had only three power-play opportunities for the game, but had a golden opportunity in the second period down 1-0 when Neal Pionk was called for hooking and just three seconds after his penalty expired, Anthony Bitetto was given another hooking penalty.

Washington had virtually four straight minutes of a power play at the end of the second period in a one-goal game...and did nothing with it.

A quick release

Kyle Connor had a little room to work with in the high slot and he made the most of it, firing a shot to beat Samsonov and give Winnipeg the 2-0 lead.

Mark Scheifele found Connor from behind the goal line and Radko Gudas stepped up to challenge, but Connor used a lethal quick release to put the puck in the back of the net.

No punch

One of the most noticeable differences the last few games when Washington was starting to play better was how physical the Caps were playing again. They manhandled the Penguins and wore them down in the third period. The physical play was a major aspect in Washington's dominant start on Tuesday as well when it looked like the Caps were just going to dominant the Jets.

There was none of that on Thursday.

This game lacked a lot of the physical edge that the Caps had used the last few games to dictate play and it was very noticeable in what was a sleepy affair.

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