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Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Caps Coach Barry Trotz says he’s confident Braden Holtby will rebound from a Game 1 performance that the goalie found to be lacking.

“I thought he was fine but he didn’t think he played as good as he could,” Trotz said. “But I do know this—and I’ve told you this—he is a guy that responds.”

On Friday morning, Holtby was among the first players on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex—and he quickly got to work with goalie coach Mitch Korn.

In Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, Holtby allowed three goals on 21 shots, including a pair on the first seven shots he faced.

RELATED: Caps-Penguins rivalry tests Shattenkirk-Bonino friendship

Why is Trotz so confident that Holtby will rebound? Because history says he will.

Holtby has generally responded with a strong individual performance after losses in the playoffs. In fact, he’s posted a .933 save percentage, 1.92 goals against and two shutouts in postseason games following a loss.  

“He’s going to be better tomorrow, and that’s good for us,” Trotz said.

Holtby’s Game 1 performance comes on the heels of an uneven first round for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Against Toronto, he yielded 14 goals in the first four games before locking down the Leafs in Games 5 and 6, stopping 61 of 63 shots to lead the Caps to the second round.

On Thursday night, Holtby got off to a strong start, turning back an early blitz by the Pens, including a point blank pad stop on Patric Hornqvist to keep the game scoreless. Holtby also made a critical breakaway stop on Phil Kessel–and the ensuing rebound attempt by Bryan Rust—as the Caps scrambled just after falling behind 2-0.

Overall, though, Holtby felt he could have been sharper. In particular, he said he did not like Sidney Crosby’s first goal or his execution on Nick Bonino’s third period shot that slipped between his blocker and side.

After the game, Holtby vowed that both he and the Caps would be ready for Game 2 on Saturday night.

“I don’t think we’re frustrated,” Holtby said. “We realize that we played a really strong game. I know I need to be better if we’re going to have success, and that’s basically the bottom line.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps not pleased with officiating in Game 1

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Capitals could bring up Connor McMichael to be a 'black ace' for the playoffs

Capitals could bring up Connor McMichael to be a 'black ace' for the playoffs

When the Capitals head to their hub city to begin their quest for the Stanley Cup, they will bring a number of "black aces" in town.

Black aces are depth call-ups from the minor leagues who are used primarily as practice players throughout the postseason, but who can be available to dress in a game if the team needs. According to general manager Brian MacLellan, among the players he is considering as black aces this postseason is their 20119 first-round draft pick, Connor McMichael.

Bringing teams to hub cities to play the postseason is part of the NHL's return to play plan, but, in the interest of safety and risking fewer people to exposure to the coronavirus, the NHL said Monday it would limit teams to 50 people each. That's not just players, that includes coaches, PR staff, athletic trainers, equipment managers, etc.

In a video conference on Friday, MacLellan said the team had an initial list of the personnel to possibly bring to the playoffs and McMichael was on that list.

"We identified probably a little bit larger group than we're going to use," MacLellan said. "We got the roster number the other day of 28 plus unlimited goalies so we're in discussions now on how we want to use those extra players and what's the best way we can organizationally. We're talking about coaches about depth guys. We're talking about bringing in McMichael a little bit. So we have some decisions to make, but we still have some time to make those decisions and we'll make them when it's appropriate."


McMichael had a standout season with the London Knights in the OHL, scoring 47 goals and 55 assists in 52 games. That was after an impressive training camp with Washington just a few months after getting selected 25th overall.

Before you get too excited there are a few things to note. First, because McMichael was on the initial list does not mean he will make the final one. Fifty people is not a lot and hard choices are going to have to be made to widdle the list down. Also, being a black ace does not mean he will play in the playoffs. In fact, it is most likely that he will not.

Young players like McMichael are often brought in as black aces for the experience, so they can see how the veteran players practice and prepare in the playoffs and learn from them. It sounds like that is exactly what MacLellan is hoping McMichael can glean from the experience.

"I think it would be great learning experience for Connor," MacLellan said. "He seems to be a guy that can pick up things from good players, from watching them, being around them. The feedback from him last training camp was he was engaged, he learned a lot from [Nicklas Backstrom]. He learned a lot from our veteran players. I think it takes a big leap for his development, just to be in that environment, to see how guys work, to see how guys practice, off-ice workouts, nutrition stuff, see our main guys doing it on a daily basis in a competitive environment. I think it would be invaluable for him."

But while it may not be the plan going in for McMichael to play, having him on the roster means that there is at least a chance.

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The timeline for Capitals players to return to D.C. remains fluid according to GM Brian MacLellan

The timeline for Capitals players to return to D.C. remains fluid according to GM Brian MacLellan

While we may know what the NHL season will look like when it returns, we still do not know when that may actually happen. But with restrictions continually evolving and beginning to ease up in many cities across North America, it looks like the league could transition to Phase 2, voluntary activities at team facilities, possibly sometime in June.

Because of Phases 2 and Phase 3, training camps could be on the horizon, and we may start to see more players begin returning to Washington in the coming days. Just what the timeline may be for those transitions or for the players returning, however, remains very fluid.

"We have people that are in contact with certain officials within the government," general manager Brian MacLellan said in a video conference Friday. "Most of our conversation is with the NHL, the executives at the NHL. Some of our players - a lot of communication with trainers and team doctors. I think that's where our main focus or my main focus has been. We're trying to comply with what we believe are regulations that are continually evolving."

MacLellan added he was "Waiting on direction from the league but trying to be prepared for whatever day they open it up for us."


But even when the facilities open, that does not mean MacLellan is expecting everyone to be back anytime soon and acknowledged that the varying comfort levels of each player regarding the coronavirus would largely dictate who returns for Phase 2 activities.

"I think the level of comfort varies across the board, just like it would I think anybody else in society," MacLellan said. "Some players are very concerned. Some players, their comfort level's high and they're ready to go. The communication, a lot of it comes from trainers, team doctors, the PA communicates to players. There's a negotiation between the league and the PA on certain concerns players have. The player reps voice concerns of individual players. I think it's all over the map. I think our job is to listen to the experts, listen to the league, listen to the concerns of the PA and the players and try and create an environment that we can continue to move forward in."

MacLellan made clear the team would not force or pressure anyone to return for Phase 2. But after Phase 2 comes training camps. While Phase 2 may be optional, the training camps are not.

MacLellan said he wants the players to do what they are comfortable within Phase 2 and anticipates some will remain at their current location and time their workouts and two-week quarantine to be ready for the start of camp.

"European guys, guys coming from out of town, I think they'll filter in as we get closer to the July 10th, if that's the actual date for training camp, I think guys will try and time it where they work out at home, kind of schedule in their two-week quarantine and a little bit period to skate, and then go to training camp," MacLellan said. "I would assume that's the way they would approach it."

The current situation stands in stark contrast to the normally regimented schedule of the NHL and the offseason. There's no set return date for workouts, there's no set return date for training camps and there is no set return date for the playoffs. The world continues to grapple with a pandemic and MacLellan has to prepare the team to make a run at the Stanley Cup while also being cognizant of the players' health concerns and he has to do it all without knowing if or when the league will progress through each phase.

It's a confusing time.

MacLellan said the team was "Trying to do the best we can to prepare to open up the rink and to allow guys to work out, and I think most importantly, to allow guys to feel comfortable with the environment that we're creating, that they can come in and work out and are reasonably protected from being infected from the virus."

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