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Capitals talk record season, what lies ahead

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Capitals talk record season, what lies ahead

News, notes and quotes as we take a step back from one of the most successful regular seasons in the Capitals’ 42-year history:

Holtby cool with sitting: Hockey historians may have wanted Braden Holtby to get a shot at NHL history by playing in the Caps’ final game of the regular season on Sunday after facving just 20 shots in a 5-1 win Saturday night in St. Louis, but Holtby didn’t make much noise over it, saying he never tried to talk his way into playing.

“No, I leave that up to the coaches,” Holtby said after watching backup Philipp Grubauer take a 2-0 loss to the Blues. “That’s not my job to decide.”

Holtby had his moment in the sun the night before when he tied Martin Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 victories, set in 2006-07. Brodeur, the assistant general manager in St. Louis, personally congratulated Holtby after the game.

“It was obviously an honor to meet him,” Holtby said. “I had never officially met him before so it was pretty cool he was there. The guys (teammates) obviously were pretty excited. We shared it together and it was fun. We got it out of the way and now we can focus on what we’re trying to accomplish.”

With 48 wins in 68 starts, Holtby finished with the highest single-season winning percentage (72.7 percent) of any goalie in NHL history with 60 or more starts. Tom Barrasso held the previous record, winning 69.4 percent of his starts (43 wins in 62 starts) in 1992-93 with the Penguins.

No Jennings:  With their 2-0 loss to the Blues the Caps lost their hold on the Jennings Trophy, awarded annually to the goaltenders whose team finishes with the fewest goals against. Thanks to Holtby (48-9-7, 2.20 GAA, .922 SP) and Grubauer (8-9-1, 2.32, .918) the Caps allowed an average of 2.33 goals per game (191 goals allowed), second behind the Anaheim Ducks, who won the Jennings with a 2.29 goals allowed average (188 goals allowed).

Holtby said it was “unfortunate” to see Grubauer finish with a losing record “because he put in solid efforts all year.”

RELATED: After loss to Ducks, Capitals turn their sights toward Philly

82-game club: Seven Capitals – defensemen Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and forwards Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson – played in all 82 games this season.

Eighty-five NHL players accomplished the feat, but no team had more players play in every game. The closest to the Capitals were the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild with five players each. Two Islanders (Frans Nielsen and Nicky Leddy) were healthy scratches in the Isles’ season-ending loss to the Flyers, which guaranteed a first-round playoff date with the Florida Panthers instead of the Pittsburgh Penguins

“What it says to me is you’re managing your game right as professional athletes,” Caps coach Barery Trotz said. “From a coaching and training standpoint you’re happy about that because you feel like you’re getting the right work and rest ratio, and you’ve got to be a little bit lucky. We’ve got some durable guys, which is good.”

Rocket man: Alex Ovechkin (50 goals) won his sixth Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer. Only Bobby Hull (seven) has led the NHL in goals more times than Ovechkin. Ovechkin also hit the 50-goal mark for the seventh time in his 11-year NHL career.

Record year: The Capitals (120 points) established a franchise record with 56 wins, two more than the 2009-10 team that finished with 54 wins and 121 points.

The Caps were 29-8-4 at home this season, one win shy of the franchise record for home victories (30, set in 1085-86 and matched in 2009-10).

The Caps finished 22-7-1 in back-to-back games this season and became the first team since the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens to go an entire season without back-to-back regulation losses.  

Enemy eyes: The Flyers had three pro scouts in attendance for Sunday night’s Capitals game, but saw no new wrinkles, especially with scattered forward lines and defense pairings.

“I don’t think they got a whole lot from that game,” Trotz said wistfully. “Seriously.

“… What you find in Game 82 is everybody’s just trying to get through it.”

Looking forward, not back: Holtby said he’s not putting a whole lot of credence to the Capitals’ emotional 2-1 shootout loss to the Flyers back on March 30 in Philadelphia, a game he said the Capitals allowed the referees get into their heads.

“That game, we didn’t play exactly how we wanted to,” Holtby said. “They’re going to play tough. It didn’t really matter to us which team we played. Every team has strengths and weaknesses and it’s a matter of exposing weaknesses and sticking to your own strengths.

“It’ll be tough. It’ll be hard-fought. They have a physical group and a lot of skill. Realistically, it doesn’t matter what opponent we have. For us it’s focusing on what’s made us successful and that’ being the Capitals. There’s a lot of experience in this room. It’s a veteran group, a mature group. Everyone has had the same goal since Day One. It hasn’t been about the regular season; it’s about preparing for the playoffs. It’s a long grind and the key is taking one game at a time, simplifying everything and bringing your best effort out there.”

MORE CAPITALS: Williams 'honored and humbled' by pregame ceremony

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Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

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@ForgedAxeWhis

Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

The reigning Stanley Cup champions seemingly have boat loads of team fun while on the road. 

A day after cruising past the Vancouver Canucks (5-2, win) at their place, the team enjoyed a little friendly competition inside an...axe throwing arena. 

Forged Axe Throwing is an indoor facility in the countryside of Whistler, British Columbia. 

Dressed as lumberjacks, the Caps dove right into their team-building activity. 

Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom went head-to-head for Swedish bragging rights. 

To no one's surprise, Alex Ovechkin is as much of a goal-scorer as he is an axe-thrower. 

But it was T.J. Oshie who walked away with the Forged Axe Throwing title on this day. 

Needless to say, Tuesday wasn't your average off day for a National Hockey League team. But as reigning champs, everyday is atypical. 

 

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Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Last season was by far Braden Holtby’s worst in the NHL.

With a .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA, Holtby was not even considered the starter for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. While his overall numbers were low, things really spiraled at the start of February.

From February 2 to March 6, Holtby managed a save percentage of only .878 and gave up a whopping 4.32 GAA. It was the worst stretch of his professional career.

There have been many theories as to the cause of Holtby’s struggles. From 2012-13 through last season, only one goalie played in more games than Holtby’s 340. After Philipp Grubauer took over, Holtby thrived in the postseason.

But neither goalie coach Scott Murray or Braden Holtby believe the issue was fatigue.

“You don't want to overuse a No. 1 guy, but [Holtby’s] a guy that has proven he can play some games and be productive,” Murray said.

The real issue, in Holtby’s mind, was the changing culture of the NHL and its focus on offense.

“It's a skill-based league now, not a toughness based league,” Holtby told NBC Sports Washington. “I see that in the league trying to take players out that play a physical game. It's hard. It's strange for us that grew up kind of loving that game because of the toughness and the heart that it took and different ways to win games. It's hard to see that kind of softness come through. That's one of those things I struggled with last year and I think you grow up and try and just ignore it and control your own game.”

It’s no secret that the NHL is trying to increase scoring with changes such as making goalie pads and pants smaller and referees calling games tighter leading to more penalties and less physical play. The league’s efforts seem to be working - in the 2017-18 season, the average goals scored per team jumped up by 10 percent.

Here are the average goals per game per team in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through 2016-17:

2010-11: 2.79
2011-12: 2.73
2012-13: 2.72
2013-14: 2.74
2014-15: 2.73
2015-16: 2.71
2016-17: 2.77

In every season during that stretch, the average fell between 2.71-2.79. In the 2017-18 season, however, that average jumped up all the way up to 2.97.

Successful NHL goalies are expected to have a save percentage over .910 and a GAA below 2.50. But what happens when that standard changes? For Holtby, he struggled to evaluate his own performance. He felt he was playing well, but the numbers told a different story.

“That was one of the real challenges last year, especially through the first four months or so,” Holtby said. “We try to evaluate it every game the same based on every play and not how the game is and it felt that, both [Murray], [goaltending director Mitch Korn] and I felt that I was playing better than I had years passed and the numbers just weren't obviously showing that and it became frustrating and that started to creep in my game. That's kind of a main reason why you saw the drop off in February.”

If the issue was not fatigue, however, then why was time off the solution?

According to Murray, it wasn’t.

“It's always good to have rest, but I think more importantly he had to reinvent himself a little bit and reestablish his foundation that got him here in the first place which is a blue-collar attitude,” Murray said. “I'm going to work and I'm going to stick to what I'm good at, my habits and make sure they're good and let some of the outside stuff go. I think that was just as important as rest, kind of that reset button and understanding who he was and what got him there and getting back to that.”

It’s an important lesson that Holtby will have to remember for this season as scoring has jumped up yet again even over last season. In the first month of play, the average number of goals per game per team has climbed to 3.10. Should that trend stick, it will be the first time the average has gone over 3.00 since 2005-06.

“You know there's going to be more goals, more chances,” Holtby said. “Just focus on every play and just leave out the rest because those are things you just can't control. That's just life.”

 

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