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Kolzig pulling for Holtby to pass Brodeur

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Kolzig pulling for Holtby to pass Brodeur

Perhaps more than anyone but Braden Holtby himself, Olie Kolzig understands the two-year journey the 26-year-old goaltender has taken en route to becoming one of the NHL’s elite netminders.

That is why Kolzig appreciates the fact that Holtby has broken his franchise record of 41 wins, a mark he set during the 1999-2000 season.

“You know what?” said Kolzig, who sent Holtby a congratulatory text Tuesday night following the Caps’ 2-1 overtime win. “Records are meant to be broken and if anybody was going to do it, I’m happy that it was Braden. Obviously, with the relationship he and I have had over the years and the crap he had to go through a couple years ago, it’s great to see a good guy get rewarded.”

About this time three years ago, Holtby and Kolzig decided to abandon the directive of head coach Adam Oates and return to the style that got Holtby into the NHL two years earlier.

“There was a time there (during the 2013-14 season) where he was just unsure of himself, he was confused,” Kolzig said. “And near the end of that season he was back to being Braden.”

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Following that season, which ended with Holtby owning a 23-15-4 record and the Capitals missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, Oates was dismissed as coach and Mitch Korn replaced Kolzig as goaltending coach.

Kolzig said Korn has gotten Holtby to play much tighter and faster between the pipes and the results have been impressive. Holtby leads the NHL with 42 wins and ranks seventh in goals-against average (2.22) and tied for eighth in save percentage (.922).

“He has the ability to get from one side of the net in lightning speed,” Kolzig said. “The problem (in the past) was he would get there and there’d be holes in his body. Even though he was there the puck would find its way through.

“Mitch has him getting there with the same type of speed, but getting there as a total package and now players really have to make great shots to beat him. And he still has the ability to scramble and make one of those miraculous saves.”

With 13 games remaining in the regular season, Holtby is seven wins away from breaking Marty Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 wins, set in 2006-07. In that season, Brodeur played in 78 games, while backup Scott Clemensen saw just six games.

This season, Holtby has played in 56 games and is on pace for 50 wins in 66 appearances. Grubauer (8-6-1 with a 2.15 GAA and .925 SP) has played in 18 games and is on pace for 21  

“For (Brodeur) to have that kind of a year wasn’t shocking,” Kolzig said of Brodeur’s record-setting season. “But I’m sure if you look at percentages of how much his backup (Clemmensen) played, I would think Grubi has chipped in a little more than Marty’s backup.

“For Braden to do it in a league now where there’s so much parity, if he can get to that mark I think it will be a real big accomplishment. And I think people will then go, ‘Wow!’ because of how good the league is from 1 to 30.”

As for these Capitals, Kolzig said he thinks it’s the “deepest, most talented Caps team that’s ever been put on the ice” and thinks Holtby has made a strong case for team MVP.

“Winning in the NHL, no matter how good a team you have, is not easy,” he said. “Every part has to be working at the same time. It could be argued that Braden could be the MVP of that team. Early on in the season they won a lot more games than they should have based on how Braden played. Now they’re firing on all cylinders.”

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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