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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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How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

For the past two weeks, updates to the 2020 postseason have been rolling in making it hard to keep track of them all. A very different 2020 postseason awaits when play resumes so you may not know all the ins and outs of how the playoffs will work. Right now the most important things for Capitals fans to remember are that Washington is in, we don't know who they will play in the first round or where they will be seeded and yes, they could play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

So let's go over the specifics.

Where will the Caps be seeded?

We don't know. Next question!

Washington finished third in the Eastern Conference and first in the Metropolitan Division, just barely edging out the Philadelphia Flyers, but that won't get them much. All this means is that the Caps are among the top four teams in the conference so they will play a three-game round-robin to determine the top four seeds. Washington will play Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia each one time in games with regular-season rules (meaning shootouts instead of endless overtime). The team with the best record in that round-robin will earn the top seed in the conference. It doesn't matter that Boston had 10 more points than Washington when the season paused, the Caps could still jump to the top of the conference should the finish with a better record in these three games.

The only way in which regular-season records matter at this point is to determine the four teams that get to play in the round-robin and as a tiebreaker. Regular season points percentage will be used as the tiebreaker for teams tied after the round-robin.

Who will the Caps play in the playoffs?

We won't know that specifically for three reasons. First, we have to know where the Caps will be seeded and we won't until after the round-robin; second, we won't know until after the play-in round; and third, it was announced on Thursday that the teams will be reseeded after each round so it's possible we won't know exactly who the Caps will play until the play-in round is completely finished.

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If that sounds like reseeding makes things more complicated, it does in a sense, but it was the right decision. Yes, when the playoffs begin we won't be able to have a clear bracket for the playoffs but...so what? I mean, does that really matter? What reseeding does is prevent the top seed from getting screwed. A bracket is made with the assumption that the top team will win each round. That means the No. 4 is supposed to play the No. 5 in the first round, but what happens if a No. 12 upsets the No. 5 in the play-in? All of a sudden, the No. 4 team would be playing the lowest seed left in the tournament while the No. 1 would have to play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 series.

That does not make sense.

Yes, trying to explain who the Caps could play after their bye from the play-in series is enough to make your head spin, but trust me, it makes a lot more logical sense to do it this way and ensures the better playoff matchups in the later rounds as opposed to the early rounds which has been a problem for the NHL since they adopted their division system.

How could the Caps play the Penguins in the first round?

For most Capitals fans, whenever the playoffs roll around everyone starts looking to see if a Washington-Pittsburgh postseason rematch is in the cards. Despite describing how we basically don't know anything about who the Caps could play in the first round yet, there is actually a pretty straightforward path for a Caps-Penguins matchup.

As the No. 5 seed, Pittsburgh is the highest-seeded team in the play-in round. Now that we know the NHL will reseed after each round, if the Penguins win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, they are guaranteed to play the No. 4 seed in the first round of the playoffs. If Washington finishes last in the round-robin and Pittsburgh wins its series, get out the popcorn and work on that bird celebration, because it will mean a Caps vs. Penguins series yet again.

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NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

The NHL will transition to Phase 2 of its return to play plan, the reopening of team facilities for training activities, on June 8, the league announced Thursday.

Since the season was paused on March 12, the league has considered itself to be in Phase 1 of the plan, meaning self-isolation. While the NHL and NHLPA have made progress off the ice towards a return to play negotiating things such as the playoff format, throughout all those talks the league still remained in Phase 1. This is the first concrete step the NHL has taken towards an eventual return to the ice.

"Beginning June 8 – subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice)," a statement released by the NHL said. "Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning."

As the statement notes, participation in Phase 2 activities are voluntary and will be limited to six players at a time. The Capitals have not yet set a date for the team's start of Phase 2.

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Phase 3 of the plan is training camp and, despite Thursday's announcement, we remain far off from that point. According to Pierre LeBrun, the earliest the league would start camps is July 10. Phase 4 is then the resumption of the season.

Presumably, Phase 3 will not start without a date set for when Phase 4. It is hard to believe the NHLPA would agree to an indefinite training camp. Phase 2, however, can begin without any formalized dates for Phases 3 and 4.  So while this is certainly a step towards the return of hockey and a sign that things are improving, all the difficult deciions regarding health and safety protocols as well as a timeline for the eventual 2020 postseason are still yet to be decided.

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