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Seeing Braden Holtby pulled was the 'biggest disappointment' for Caps in Monday's loss

Seeing Braden Holtby pulled was the 'biggest disappointment' for Caps in Monday's loss

It’s hard to fault Braden Holtby too much for Monday’s loss. While he did allow three goals on just 11 shots, none of those goals could be labeled “soft.”

Whether Devin Shore was guilty of goalie interference or not, his position in the crease did not allow Holtby to get over to break up a wraparound opportunity that results in Dallas' first goal. The second goal was the result of an egregious turnover from Nicklas Backstrom and the third goal only happens because Dmitry Orlov couldn’t corral the puck off a dump-in by the Stars.

Yet, while Jason Spezza was still celebrating his goal to make the score 3-0, Philipp Grubauer was already grabbing his glove and mask and hopping onto the ice.

“I was just trying to change the momentum a little bit taking Holts out,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “I didn't think we were playing that hard in front of him so once they got three, I felt just change it up and I thought we sort of went from there a little bit better.”

The Caps seemed to respond as they scored the next two goals to pull within one in the third period. Grubauer stopped all 10 shots he faced and Dallas did not score again until an empty-netter from Patrick Sharp late in the game.

The loss ended a 15-game home win streak and prevented Washington from getting its first home win against Dallas since 2006, but the part that stung the most for the team was watching as Holtby was pulled.

“I think the biggest disappointment is Holts getting pulled there,” T.J. Oshie said. “For how many times he's saved us this year and how many wins he's gotten, it's a bad feeling when he has to leave the net.”

Hotlby has been one of the top goalies in the past few months and was named the NHL's Third Star of the Month for February after going 8-0-1 in nine with a 1.88 GAA and .928 save percentage.

Monday’s loss was his first in 20 decisions (17-1-2), snapping a streak dating back to Dec. 29. Dallas remains the lone team Holtby has not beaten, excluding the Capitals. Now he will have to wait until next season for his next chance.

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4 things to know for Caps-Maple Leafs: Caps go back to Samsonov

4 things to know for Caps-Maple Leafs: Caps go back to Samsonov

The Capitals (3-2-2) were handed an ugly loss Monday and will look to rebound against the Toronto Maple Leafs (4-2-1) on Wednesday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). The game is the second of a three-game homestand for the Caps. You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. before Caps Pregame Live begins at 6:30 p.m. to bring you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here are four things to know for Saturday’s game.

Ilya Samsonov gets the start

Samsonov was always likely to get one start in the team’s three-game homestand, but it was expected he would start Friday’s game against the New York Rangers instead of Wednesday. After Holtby’s rough performance on Monday, however, Samsonov will get the start.

Reirden said Tuesday, “I'm confident that we've got a few practices here, [Holtby] gets to reset and work with [goalie coach] Scott Murray and get things settled in and then he's ready to go again.”

Will that reset mean Holtby starts Friday or will it last longer than that? That's the big question. Reirden would not commit to Holtby starting on Friday, but did say there is no goalie controversy and Holtby remains the No. 1.

New lines

Monday was Washington’s worst game of the season thus far and in response, Reirden decided to mix up the lines. Here is how the Caps will lineup on Wednesday:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Garnet Hathaway
Brendan Leipsic - Chandler Stephenson - Richard Panik

Jonas Siegenthaler - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Radko Gudas
Nick Jensen - Tyler Lewington

I have long thought that Oshie would benefit from a move down to the third line where he would get fewer minutes, but play with Eller who he has good chemistry with. Oshie is second on the team with four goals already so I understand the thought to move him up instead of down.

Vrana has been in Reirden’s dog house for much of the season for his inconsistent play. He is a top-six talent without questions, but he is in danger of turning into a player who is only good when he scores. You need more from your top-six. Plus, the third line has struggled to find much production so hopefully he can boost that.

It has been a tough start for Panik who is still looking for his first point as a Cap. I thought he played well against Dallas and he had a good scoring opportunity against Colorado, but the Caps need more than zero points.

Still no Kempny

Kempny will not play Wednesday so the Caps will have to figure out the defense against one of the top offenses in the league.

Holtby definitely had his struggles on Monday, but he also did not get much help from the defense. The first goal came with Andre Burakovsky left uncontested to screen Holtby, the second goal came off a turnover by John Carlson and a misplay on defense and the third goal was the result of a misplay by Tyler Lewington on Nazem Kadri. That will have to change Wednesday or the Caps can expect a similar result.

A back-to-back for the Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs played on Tuesday meaning Wednesday’s game is the second leg of a back-to-back for them. Then again, they hosted the woeful Minnesota Wild so they probably aren’t really all that tired.

Toronto won 4-2 and the stars all came out to play with Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and John Tavares each recording a goal. Most importantly, Frederik Andersen got the game which should mean Michael Hutchinson will get the start in Washington.

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Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby has been here before. Every goalie in the NHL has good stretches and bad. Really, one thing that defines a goalie is how they overcome those bad stretches. Holtby had perhaps the greatest rebound a goalie could ever have, going from losing his starting job to Philipp Grubauer in 2018 to taking back the crease in the playoffs and leading the team to a Stanley Cup.

But could this year be different?

A poor start is one thing, but there are also other external factors that may be contributing.

In five games this season, Holtby has a .846 save percentage and 4.27 GAA. His save percentage is the worst among all goalies with at least four starts and his GAA is the second-worst behind only Devan Dubnyk’ s 4.56. It’s a small sample size, but those are horrific numbers made worse by Monday’s performance in which he allowed three goals on three shots before being pulled.

“It was a tough game for Braden and I think he'll be the first one to admit it,” Todd Reirden said after practice on Tuesday. “That's a game I think he'd like to do some things different. I think our team could have played closer to our identity than we did to give him a better chance to have success. But the good thing is he's accountable to it, he knows. He's accountable to himself, he's accountable to his teammates, he's accountable to everybody that he can be better than that and when he gets that chance he will.”

But will he?

Just 16 months removed from overcoming the worst stretch of his career and hoisting the Stanley Cup and still only 30 years old, it seems premature to declare Holtby as finished or to assume he won’t be able to dig himself out of this hole.

“Usually it's just getting back to the basics of things,” Holtby said when asked about overcoming a slump. “A lot of times when things are going your way, you're usually pushing forward too fast and make things [instead] of just letting them come to you. It's just getting back to the basics of playing, trusting your instincts and not letting it affect you. Just go out and play.”

“In times like these - good or bad - it's usually not as good as you think or not as bad as you think,” he added. “You just have to get yourself back to that level mentally where you can break things down and see just those little areas that might be just off a bit that could be the difference.”

But there are two external factors that could be putting pressure on Holtby mentally.

First, this year is the final year of Holtby’s contract. Playing in a contract year can be tough and Holtby certainly would not be the first player to succumb to the pressure that comes with an uncertain future. The second is that his replacement, Ilya Samsonov is now backing him up and doing a pretty darn good job with it.

In three appearances this season, Samsonov, 22, has a .944 save percentage and 1.43 GAA. He was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2015 and the fact that his first season in the NHL happens to be the last of Holtby’s contract is impossible not to notice.

Holtby was asked if his contract or Samsonov’s presence was affecting him mentally.

“I don’t know, I just think it's wanting to win, wanting to get a good start, maybe getting a little ahead of myself,” he said. “In ways, trying to push too hard. Just take a deep breath and just go out and play. I mean, it's seven games in. A couple months, you won't even remember this conversation. You just stick to the process and keep doing what you think you can do to help the team win.”

“When you break it down like that, who his backup is, yes it is a different scenario,” Reirden said. “The one scenario that isn't different is that I still have plenty of confidence in him. Lots of confidence in him. He's been through this before. We saw that in the Stanley Cup year and then he ends up taking over and helping us win the Stanley Cup and be a huge part of it.”

While Reirden still professes his confidence in Holtby, the recent struggles as well as Samsonov’s strong play have at least given him pause.

Following Monday’s loss, Reirden said of Samsonov, “He's doing what he's supposed to be doing, and that's to make it like a decision every night of who's going to be considered to play that game.”

Reirden also would not commit to naming a starter for Wednesday’s game against a star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs team, but he seemed to be leaning towards Samsonov to give Holtby time to reset. At least that’s what it sounded like.

“Much like every player, goalies will go through situations like this and I'm sure that's how [Holtby] feels about the start to the year. I'm confident that we've got a few practices here, he gets to reset and work with [goalie coach] Scott Murray and get things settled in and then he's ready to go again.”

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