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Braden Holtby's playoff stats aren't very Holtby-like

Braden Holtby's playoff stats aren't very Holtby-like

Through the Caps’ first four postseason games, Braden Holtby’s numbers haven’t been very Braden Holtby-like.

In fact, this year’s William M. Jennings Trophy winner ranks 15th in both save percentage (.907) and goals against average (3.02) among goalies who have appeared in at least three games. He's allowed 2, 4, 4 and 4 goals, respectively, in a Washington-Toronto series that's knotted 2-2.

For comparison’s sake, Holtby entered the playoffs with a .938 save percentage—the best postseason percentage in league history.

Asked to assess his starting goalie’s play on Thursday, Trotz said he's not concerned and pointed to the number of “strange” bounces that Holtby's seen as the primary reason his play may not appear up to its usual stratospheric standards.

“It’s hard to gauge it because they’ve had a lot of strange stuff,” Trotz said. “During the year, goalies do everything on predictability. And there’s a lot of things that aren’t very predictable right now. And that, at times, makes Braden look like he’s not there. But it’s bouncing off four different guys.”

RELATED: Will Schmidt's play keep him in the lineup?

Trotz added: “He’s playing fine. But it’s not very predictable right now because there’s stuff that is bouncing all over. It’s a pinball machine out there a little bit.”

Trotz’s point is a legitimate one.

In just the two games in Toronto, one puck hit Nate Schmidt in the visor and went to Auston Matthews. Then there were the pucks that went in off of the skates of Zach Hyman and Dmitry Orlov. Another went off of Brooks Orpik’s backside. The Leafs have also scored three times on the power play in the series.

“They wrist it from the point and he’s in position and it goes off of Brooks and [Connor] Brown in front,” Trotz said of Nazem Kadri’s Game 3 tally that went in off of Orpik. “Kadri threw the puck to the net. [Holtby] is expecting it to be at his chest and all of a sudden it’s changing six feet.”

It should also be noted that the Leafs have done a good job creating havoc in and around the crease and hunting rebounds. In addition, Holtby has faced more shots—150—than any other goalie in the playoffs, including the 34 he saw in Wednesday’s pivotal 5-4 win at Air Canada Centre.

The victory evened the series and earned the Caps the day off from skating on Thursday. But that didn’t stop Holtby from getting on the ice around 10 a.m. for some fine tuning with goalie coach Mitch Korn.  

“He’s a guy that wants to work and do stuff,” Trotz said, asked about Holtby hopping on for some extra work. “He’s one of those that a body in motion stays in motion, you know?”

Holtby's dogged work ethic has always separated him from his peers. But it's not the biggest reason Trotz remains confident Holtby will manage to push through this challenging stretch. That would be Holtby's mental toughness.

“Those are things that things that are just happening and you got to deal with that mentally,” Trotz said of the bad bounces. “And he is; he’s a tough goaltender. One thing I know about Braden is that he’s got some good Saskatchewan blood in him. He’s hardnosed and he fights through that. I’m not worried about him at all.”

Holtby did not speak to reporters since it was not an official practice.

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Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist add new chapter to their rivalry Sunday

USA Today

Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist add new chapter to their rivalry Sunday

Everyone knows about the Alex Ovechkin/Sidney Crosby rivalry. Two generational talents who entered the league the same year playing for rival franchises was a dream scenario for the NHL. That rivalry is so great that it can be easy to overlook some of the other great matchups we see between Ovechkin and other players.

On Sunday, we will be treated to another of Ovechkin’s great rivals as Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers come to Washington (12:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

One of the best goal scorers of all-time against one of the NHL’s top netminders? Yes please.

Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer seven times in his career and looks well on his way to No. 8 as he leads the league in goals again with 44. He has hit 50 goals seven times and has the most goals among active players with 651. Lundqvist, meanwhile, won the Vezina in 2012 and has a career save percentage of .919. He is sixth all-time in wins with 448.

These two have had epic battles over the years. Ovechkin has scored 24 goals on Lundqvist, tied for the most he has scored against any netminder over the course of his career. He also has another 13 goals in the playoffs against King Henrik. Lundqvist went so far as to call Ovechkin “one of the best goal scorers of all time” in an interview with Esquire.

Another chapter in the rivalry will be written on Sunday. Who will win this round?

Game notes

Nick Jensen to make his debut

Jensen will make his Capitals debut Sunday against the Rangers after skating in warmups and adjusting to his new team on Saturday. With no morning skate it is unclear who will come out. Christian Djoos was playing right on the third pair which is where Jensen will slot in. Chances are either Djoos or Brooks Orpik will be out.

Pheonix raising

Pheonix Copley will start Sunday after Braden Holtby got the start Sunday in Buffalo. Copley has won his last three starts with a .908 save percentage.

Home sweet home

The Caps concluded a season-long six-game road trip Saturday in Buffalo. Sunday’s game will be the first in Washington since a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 11. Washington has gone 4-1-1 at home since the All-Star break.


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Caps can't complete season sweep, fall to Sabres 5-2

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Caps can't complete season sweep, fall to Sabres 5-2

The Capitals could not complete the season sweep of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday as Sam Reinhart recorded a hat trick in a 5-2 loss for Washington. The Caps gave up two goals in the first and chased the rest of the game, but never could erase the deficit.

Saturday's game finished off a season-long six-game road trip for Washington which now heads home with three wins in those six games.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost Saturday.

A misplay by Dmitry Orlov

It has been a tough season for the Caps’ second defensive pair of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. That continued on Saturday as Buffalo got on the board thanks to a mistake by Orlov.

Jack Eichel had the puck along the boards on the right side of Washington’s defensive zone with Niskanen in good position between the puck and the net. Orlov was tailing Jeff Skinner in front of the net and when Skinner went to the right corner, Orlov followed him leaving both defensemen on the right side of the ice and absolutely no one in front. Skinner passed to a wide-open Jason Pominville who buried the goal.

That was just one play in what was a really tough day for the pair which struggled all game long.

A perfect shot

Buffalo cleared their zone with a flip of the puck into the neutral zone. The puck took a few bounces before anyone could settle it and Evan Rodrigues managed to chip it over to Sam Reinhart who had a lane to shoot on Braden Holtby. Holtby saw him coming on his left and slid over to square up, but his momentum carried him just a bit leaving the right corner of the net open. Reinhart wristed the shot into that corner to extend Buffalo’s lead to 2-0 in the first period.

A late power play goal

Washington did not have a great start to the game, but seemed to settle things down in the second period. Alex Ovechkin scored on the breakaway to make it 2-1 and the ice began tilting in the Caps’ favor. At least it was until Nic Dowd took a late tripping penalty with just over two minutes remaining.

Instead of going into the locker room down by only one and feeling confident, the Caps were suddenly on their heels on the penalty kill. Rasmus Dahlin scored with just 31 seconds left in the second frame. That goal put momentum back In Buffalo’s favor.

A quick response

There was a brief moment of hope in the third period for Caps fans as Andre Burakovsky pulled Washington to within one less than five minutes into the third. Reinhart, however, scored his second of the game just 1:27 later to restore Buffalo’s two-goal lead.

Carter Hutton

Washington’s defense was just plain bad in this game. The offense, however, looked pretty good. Buffalo’s netminder was just better.

Hutton turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced including a handful of top-notch saves, especially in the second period. T.J. Oshie tried to sneak a great shot blocker side between Hutton’s arm and body, but he managed to just squeeze the arm together in time to get the stop. He was particularly good against the third line which was Washington’s best line of the day, denying Brett Connolly off a great cross-ice pass from Lars Eller and stunning Eller with a great save as Eller took a pass right on the back door. Eller looked like he had an empty net, but he was skating backward and the pass was just behind him. Eller couldn’t fire a one-timer, because of the position of the puck, he had to control the puck first and fire it. That little delay allowed Hutton just enough time to get over for the save.