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Braden Holtby feels better prepared to battle the Leafs' offensive approach

Braden Holtby feels better prepared to battle the Leafs' offensive approach

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.”

RELATED: CHANLDER STEPEHNSON RECALLED BUT NOT EXPECTED TO PLAY GAME 5

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Tom Wilson knows how hard the Kuznetsov suspension will sting: 'It's not easy to watch your team go into battle'

Tom Wilson knows how hard the Kuznetsov suspension will sting: 'It's not easy to watch your team go into battle'

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When the Capitals start the 2019-20 season, Evgeny Kuznetsov will not be on the ice. He will not play in the season opener against the St. Louis Blues, he will not play former coach Barry Trotz when the team travels to play the New York Islanders and he will not play in the home opener against the team that eliminated Washington from the playoffs last season.

Tom Wilson knows how Kuznetsov feels.

“It's not easy to watch your team go into battle and you be on the sidelines,” Wilson told NBC Sports Washington. “You definitely want to be out there with them, but can't do anything about it now and you've just got to make sure that you're ready to go once you're back out there.”

Wilson missed the first 16 games of the 2018-19 season when he was suspended for a preseason hit to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Like Kuznetsov, Wilson was also forced to miss the start of the season.

When Kuznetsov spoke to the media on Saturday regarding his suspension, he expressed his appreciation to the fans for their support. With his suspension, however, Kuznetsov will be forced to miss the home opener on Oct. 5 and will not be able to play in front of those fans when the city celebrates the return of hockey.

That was even tougher for Wilson last year as he was not able to play in the home opener when the team raised its Stanley Cup banner to the rafters.

“It is tough,” he said. “It's a cool moment for the fans, it's a cool moment for the players. Stuff happens and you have to deal with it, but you never want to miss a game whether it's the first game or the 50th or whatever. You want to be on the ice every night. That's what we love to do.

“It'll be alright. I'm sure he'll be around to take it in, he just won't be out and playing.”

But the suspension to Kuznetsov will not just be hard on him, it will be hard on the team as well.

Washington faces a brutal schedule and, though Kuznetsov will only miss the first three games, the schedule and matchups in those three games were going to be difficult even before the team knew it would be without one of its top two centers.

The Caps open the season in St, Louis on the night the Blues celebrate their Stanley Cup victory and unfurl their championship banner. Two days later, the team will be in New York for the Islanders’ home-opener. The first game in Washington will come the next day on the back-end of a back-to-back and it will pit the Caps against the Carolina Hurricanes who eliminated them from the playoffs last season.

That’s a tough stretch and if the team struggles, that could make the suspension even harder for Kuznetsov, according to Wilson.

“When you're watching those games, you just have that motivation that when you come back, just to try to make up for lost time and be the best player that you can be in order to make it up to your teammates,” Wilson said.

There is a silver-lining to glean from Wilson’s suspension last year and that is what happened when he returned.

When Wilson’s suspension finally ended in 2018, the team got back a motivated winger who was dominant in his return. Wilson recorded eight goals and six assists in his first 10 games back including a goal in his very first game. After a lackluster season, perhaps the suspension can jolt Kuznetsov back into the 2018 playoff form that allowed him to dominate the league.

“I expect him to come back flying and playing his best hockey,” Wilson said. “We'll appreciate having him back in the lineup and a little spark in Game 4 for sure.”

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Capitals' first-round pick Connor McMichael knows patience is key in his path to the NHL

Capitals' first-round pick Connor McMichael knows patience is key in his path to the NHL

Connor McMichael is the first Washington Capitals' prospect featured in NBC Sports Washington's I Am The Prospect series. Click here to check out more profiles from I am The Prospect.

Connor McMichael looks forward to the day when he puts on a red sweater for the Capitals in his NHL debut.

"It’s something special coming to Washington and hopefully be the next player who comes out here as one of the legends.” McMichael said.

But for now, the Capitals' 2019 first-round pick will continue to develop his skills under former Caps head coach Dale Hunter in the Ontario Hockey League for the London Knights. Hunter's brother Mark is also a part of the Knights as the general manager.

“We’re excited that Dale’s gonna have him for another year or two," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. "That’s really gonna help his development."

McMichael has been a standout player for the Knights, leading the team in scoring and to a first-place finish in the Western Conference last season. Many NHL prospects do not get the immediate call-up to the big leagues, so having a former Capitals great play a big role in McMichael's development is a big plus.

“He’s very well-coached," Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. "He’s played in kind of a bigger stage in terms of the number of people who come to watch London play. We like that fact that he’s already dealt with some of that pressure and he’s succeeded."

The 19-year-old from Ajax, Ontario, is patient, knowing further development of his skills is a necessity to succeeding in the NHL.

"Dale’s been huge for my development and so has Mark so I’m thankful to have them," McMichael said.

What attracted the Capitals' top brass to McMichael was his ability to play both ends of the ice, a 200-foot player.

“He’s got a knack for scoring goals around the net," MacLellan said. "He’s got a little extra sense or intelligence, hockey intelligence that a lot of players don’t have.”

For McMichael, patience is key, and a virtue that will pay off for both him and the Capitals in the long-run.

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