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Holtby giving Capitals fans reason to believe


Holtby giving Capitals fans reason to believe

News and notes as the Capitals take part in a well-attended optional skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex foillowing Monday night’s 1-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers:

Perfect Braden:  Braden Holtby’s 33 saves against the Oilers were his most this season and his shutout was his first of the season and 21st of his career. Holtby has won four straight and has posted a 12-4-0 record this season with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.

Those are numbers that should warrant strong consideration for Team Canada in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.  Holtby is now 4-1-1 in his career against the Oilers with two shutouts. Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Holtby ranks tied for second in the NHL in shutouts (18).

“Shutouts to me have a lot to do with puck luck,” Holtby said Tuesday. “Sometimes you play a lot better in games when you get scored on three times. The main thing is just finding a way to win. That’s all that matters. Your goal every game is to try and be perfect but hockey happens and you try to take every shot as you can and try to help the team win.”  

Charting Ovi:  Nine of Alex Ovechkin’s team-high 10 goals have come at even strength. He has just one power-play goal on a league-high 36 power-play shots. He has had no power-play shots blocked, but has had 19 miss the net. So that’s one goal on 55 attempts at the net.

More numbers: Ovechkin led all skaters in hits (7) and led the Capitals in shots (5) Monday night. John Carlson recorded a season-high seven blocked shots and Nicklas Backstrom won 14 of 21 faceoffs (66.7 percent).

Margin of victory:  The Caps have won by a 1-0 score 25 times in their history. Their last came on Jan. 14, 2015, against Philadelphia. Jason Chimera scored the game-winning goal in the first period and Braden Holtby stopped all 21 shots he faced.

Nice start: The Caps’ 14-5-1 (29 points) start is their best since going 14-5-1 to start the 2010-11 season. Their best sstart after 20 games came in 1992 when they went 15-5-0 (30 points).

Home dominance: The Caps are 8-3-1 at home this season, earning  at least a point in six of their last seven home games (5-1-1).

MORE CAPITALS: After pregame mishap, Holtby hopes Williams isn't superstitious

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Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes


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.”