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Holtby not letting himself off the hook

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Holtby not letting himself off the hook

From Labor Day through New Year’s, Braden Holtby has been the Capitals’ most reliable and consistent player. It was with that in mind that Barry Trotz was careful with his critique of his goaltender following the Caps’ 5-4 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.

“Holts wasn’t absolutely fantastic,” Trotz told reporters after watching Holtby allow four goals on 29 shots through 65 minutes, then two more on three shots in the shootout.

“If you measure his game to what it was all year, he’d probably put this as one of the lower points for the year. “But he’s been outstanding for us all year.

“I’m never going to blame the game on Holts because he’s won us so many, but he’ll probably say it wasn’t one of his better ones. He’s been incredible this year. He’s bounced back every opportunity we’ve let him.”

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Holtby, whose loss was his first since Dec. 5, was equally disappointed in his effort against the Blue Jackets, which left his NHL-best record at 24-4-2.

“If I make a couple saves I know I can make, you’re not asking those questions and it doesn’t change the way we played at all,” Holtby said. “This one, I have to be better. It’s simple.”

Holtby and the Caps were 68 seconds away from a 4-3 win when Brandon Saad used a burst of speed to get behind Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen and flipped a shortside backhander over Holtby to tie the score.

“That’s a hard play, when they cut in front,” Holtby said, “and I think I cheated a bit too much (to the far post) to try to stop him from going to the backside there and left a little bit of space open.”

Despite the shootout loss, Holtby still has not lost a game in regulation since Nov. 10, a 19-game stretch in which he has gone 16-0-3. During that time Holtby has faced an increased volume of traffic in his crease as opponents try to make it more and more difficult for him to see pucks.

That was certainly the case Saturday night but Holtby believes the Blue Jackets crossed the line when Nick Foligno skated by Holtby and clipped him under the chin with his stick blade, prying Holtby’s mask off in the process.

“They missed that one, I think,” Trotz said of the officials, who did not call a penalty on the play. “Those are dangerous plays. There’s no reason for it. (Foligno’s) just got to control his stick. Holts was in the crease. It is what it is.”

Holtby has had his mask knocked off in each of his last two starts and is getting frustrated by the liberties players are taking in his crease.

“Yeah, I was not expecting it,” Holtby said. “That’s a pretty standard play. A goalie is standing there all the time. It’s tough when you don’t get those (called). It’s pretty clear that’s a high stick on him.”

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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