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Holtby's shutout performance earns praises of his teammates


Holtby's shutout performance earns praises of his teammates

Goaltender Braden Holtby will downplay the fact that in his playoff career with the Capitals he is 10-2 in games that follow his own losses. And in all of those 10 wins, he has allowed two or fewer goals.

His teammates won’t.

“He’s so competitive he doesn’t want to lose twice in a row,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said after watching Holtby record a 30-save shutout in a 1-0 win in Game 3, giving the Caps a 2-1 series lead. “He doesn’t want lose ever, for that matter. His preparation and his battle level and his poise is second to none as far as goalies I’ve played with.”

“Outstanding,” added Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen. “I’m not surprised. I’ve said this before. I’m not a goalie expert but he looks like he’s seeing the puck really well and not allowing a lot of rebounds. As a team I thought we did a good job of keeping them to the outside and he was scooping them up.”

“There were a couple chaotic shifts, but I thought Holtby, obviously, he was our best player,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “He settled everything down for us.”

Holtby’s shutout was the second of his playoff career and came exactly two years since his first, which came on May 4, 2013 in a 1-0 overtime victory against the Rangers. Holtby was aided by 27 blocked shots Monday night, including a game-high of seven by Niskanen and five each by Mike Green and John Carlson.  

Sixteen of those blocked shots came in the third period, when the Rangers threw everything in their arsenal at Holtby.

“Those scrums in and around the crease, they can be a little frantic, tying up sticks, trying to knock guys over,” Brouwer said. “Sometimes you don’t even know where the puck is. You’re swinging at air and hoping you hit something.”

“It was a little crazy,” Holtby said. “But I thought we did a great job of controlling our game plan and taking [two] icings when we didn’t have plays. The guys played really good in front of me.”

And for their efforts the crowd serenaded Holtby with boisterous chants of his surname. 

“You can hear it,” he said, straight-faced, “and I really appreciate it. It’s pretty flattering. But they can shout my name the other way pretty quickly.”

[RELATED: Behind masterful performance from Holtby, Caps take Game 3 1-0]

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Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny helps take down former team in 4-2 win over Blackhawks

Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny helps take down former team in 4-2 win over Blackhawks

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — Michal Kempny tried to say it was just another game, but he could not keep up the ruse. Playing his former team meant too much. 

The Chicago Blackhawks gave up on Kempny last February. He was traded to the Capitals after months in and out of the lineup. He wondered if his time in the NHL was coming to an end. Maybe it’d be better to just go back to the Czech Republic.

Good thing he didn’t. Kempny found a home in Washington and quickly became a top-four defenseman who helped stabilize the blueline and help the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup. The disappointment upon leaving Chicago was behind him. That didn’t make Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks any less weird.  

“It feels really nice. I have to say it wasn’t an easy game for me to play,” Kempny said. “I know a lot of guys from Chicago. I spent almost two seasons there. But big win for me and our team.”

Kempny made sure of that. He scored a goal at 9:28 of the second period – his first of the season – and that proved to be the game winner in a 4-2 victory against Chicago. It wasn’t quite as big as Kempny’s last goal, which came in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights, but it meant something nonetheless. 

“It’s huge. After every practice I see him shooting pucks,” teammate and fellow Czech Republic native Jakub Vrana said. “He works on his shot and today it went through for him. Helps his confidence. I bet it feels pretty good.”

Kempny became the second Caps player in two games to score against his former team. At Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday, Lars Eller was being booed by the fans who used to cheer him there. He promptly scored the game-winning goal in overtime to stick it to them. Eller always loves playing the Canadiens, where he never felt he was given a chance. Kempny was more conflicted. Joel Quenneville, Chicago’s coach when he was there and a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks, was fired on Nov. 6. It wasn’t quite as personal. But like Eller he has landed in a good spot. 

“It always adds a little bit of extra fire to guys,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “I thought [Kempny] was skating well. Great to see him get rewarded with a goal there and I thought he had a strong game. Made some good plays at the end, some good blocks, and his skating was a factor, which is always important. I thought he did a good job of breaking pucks out, but he was ramped up for it for sure and then he settled into it and had a real strong game.”

Kempny almost added a second goal with a chance in the slot in the third period at 9:40. He had a tip on goalie Corey Crawford in the second period. It’s all part of the Capitals asking more of their defensemen given a brief lull in their five-on-five play and without key forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who are out with upper-body injuries. 

After the game, Kempny caught up with his former teammates. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews approached in the hallway outside the Chicago locker room and other former teammates stopped by to say hello. 

“I don’t know. It feels a little bit weird,” Kempny said. “The first period I was really excited from the game. After the first I was trying a little bit to settle down and keep playing my game and help my team to win.”


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Five reasons Capitals beat Blackhawks 4-2

Five reasons Capitals beat Blackhawks 4-2

The Capitals returned home from a long four-game road trip and showed no ill affects in Wednesday’s 4-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Here are five reasons the Caps won: 

Tom Wilson’s goal 54 seconds into the game. 

The Capitals (11-7-3, 25 points) were without the big man for 16 games due to an NHL suspension. His first game back was supposed to be Wednesday against the Blackhawks, until an arbitrator reduced that to 16 games last week. He’s making up for lost time. Wilson scored 54 seconds into the game, driving the net while Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played tic-tac-toe. He even creamed Chicago goalie Corey Crawford in the process, but the puck was already in the net and there was no penalty like Wilson’s first goal back against Minnesota on Nov. 13, when he scored AND got a penalty for goalie interference. Wilson continues to do the little things well and he now has six points (two goals, four assists) in five games.  

Braden’s back

Braden Holtby hadn’t started a game since Nov. 11 thanks to an upper-body injury. He did come on in relief Monday against Montreal and stopped the final 22 shots of the game to help the Capitals rally for a 5-4 win. Holtby’s been playing well for a while now, though – even with that three-game interruption on the last road trip. He stopped the first 18 Chicago shots, 37 of 39 and dating to a Nov. 7 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins he has saved 152 of 160 shots for a .950 save percentage. 

Former Friends

Asked on Wednesday morning if there was any extra juice playing the Chicago Blackhawks, his former team, Michal Kempny just smiled and said no. He couldn’t completely keep up the facade, though. Kempny admitted things just didn’t work out for him with the Blackhawks last year when he was limited to 31 games well into February. By the end of the season, after a trade to Washington, he was playing a top-four role on a Stanley Cup champion. So you know his goal at 9:28 of the second period had extra meaning. He felt like the Blackhawks gave up on him. 

Kempny’s slap shot beat goalie Corey Crawford and made it 3-0 Washington. It was his first goal of the season. It was the second game in a row a Caps player got his former team. Lars Eller was being booed by the crowd in overtime against Montreal on Monday and ended the game moments later with a goal.   

Caps PK

The penalty kill is still a work-in-progress and there isn’t anywhere to go but up when you enter a game ranked 28thin the NHL (70.3 percent). Take it step by step. Washington killed three Chicago power plays. And while the Blackhawks are scuffling with the man advantage at 9-for-64 (14.1 percent) entering the game, they still have the skill and talent to make teams pay if they spend too much time in the penalty box. But the Caps held Chicago to just three shots on goal on the PK. 

Secondary scorers

Andre Burakovsky scored his second goal in 12 games. The Caps need more of that from him given the absence of T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov to upper-body injuries. Burakovsky finished a pretty spinning backhand pass from teammate Jakub Vrana at 6:36 of the first period to put Washington up 2-0 early. 

It can’t always be Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson or Nicklas Backstrom with the current injuries. The Capitals got secondary scoring from Kempny and Devante Smith-Pelly, too. That was big. Stick tap to Vrana, by the way. He had the primary assist on Burakovsky and Kempny’s goals. Burakovsky and Vrana took advantage of some late power-play time with the second unit. Washington’s power play is now 20 for 67 (29.9 percent).