Braden Holtby says he expects to be more prepared on Friday night for the deflected pucks and odd bounces that have eluded him through the first four games of the Washington-Toronto series.
Why? A couple of reasons: No. 1, he and his teammates have a better understanding of the Leafs’ throw-everything-at-net approach. And No. 2, he’s worked to sharpen up specific parts of his game over past the 24 hours.
“They are putting bodies in front and throwing it there,” Holtby said following the morning skate. “Things happen when you do that.”
Capitals GameTime begins at 6 p.m. on CSN. Puck drop for Game 5 is slated for 7.
“Some of them aren’t going to happen again,” Holtby continued, referring to all the deflections. “There were a couple that [went] off two, three things. That happens, and you just put it behind you. If that’s part of their game plan, it’s more about taking away areas [of the net]. If a shot is going to one side, it’s not about catching it or getting it in the middle of the blocker, it’s about getting your whole body there to limit the chances of a deflection.”
Indeed, many of the Leafs’ 14 goals in this series have hit something or taken a weird bounce before finding their way into Washington’s net. Just last game, for example, two goals deflected in off of skates and other hit a body in front, throwing off Holtby’s timing.
“It’s just kinda throwing it into piles, hoping for things,” Holtby said. “Their second goal [in Game 4], that went off [Dmitry Orlov’s] skate. [James van Riemsdyk) was kinda shooting for the guys’ skates in front, anyways. Don’t guess, just react.”
As a result of the tips, deflections and strange bounces (and the Leafs’ commitment to wreaking havoc in and around the crease) Holtby’s numbers haven’t looked very Holtby-like thus far in the first round. He entered the playoffs with a .938 save percentage—the best postseason mark in NHL history. As he prepares for Game 5, though, he boasts a pedestrian-looking .907 save percentage.
Holtby is aware of his stats but says he’s solely focused on doing whatever is needed to pull out a ‘W’.
“[Bad bounces] happen,” he said. “That’s life. That’s hockey. You just have to move onto the next shot. Because in playoffs, stats don’t matter, it’s all about the next save, the next play.”
As far as getting better with stopping deflections and tips, he spent a portion of the team’s off day on Thursday working with goalie guru Mitch Korn at the Caps’ facility in Arlington.
“Trying to get the body control back a little bit,” Holtby said, asked about the session. “In any situation, any series or circumstance of events, you try and pick out trends. In order to combat some of those bounces, I need to get my upper body moving, certain areas shifting, and keep my lower body based and [on] my edges more than usual. I was just getting back to basics. Obviously, this time of year you don’t have a lot of time to work on those things. That’s more a training camp, first half of the season kinda thing. So it was nice to get out there and simplify things.”
Holtby said he’s confident that the additional preparation—plus a better knowledge of individual Leafs’ tendencies as well as what they’re trying to accomplish as a team—will start yielding dividends beginning Friday.
“You got to figure out players’ tendencies,” Holtby said. “The more you play against them, you know who’s in front, who’s where. Things like that.”
He continued: “There’s always screens every game, pucks you don’t see. You just got to find it as quick as possible. There’s an emphasis on the high forward a lot, and our ‘D’ are going to realize that they have time to front some of those pucks. And I’ve got battle harder to find sight lines. I think we’ve gotten consistently better at that throughout the series, and tonight will be even better.”