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Is this the year Holtby scores his first goal?

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Is this the year Holtby scores his first goal?

With players starting to trickle into Kettler Capitals Iceplex from all corners of the world, we’re spending this week looking at the Capitals’ depth chart at each position and what we can expect heading into what promises to be a very interesting 2015-16 season. Today, we look at Caps’ depth between the pipes:

Braden Holtby

Age: 25

Games: 73

Wins: 41

Losses: 20

Overtime losses: 10

Shutouts: 9

Goals-against average: 2.22

Save percentage: .923

Minutes: 4,247

Assists: 2

2015-16 cap hit: $6.1 million

Analysis: If last year’s regular season was not enough to convince you Holtby has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL – he finished first in the league in games, minutes, shots against and saves; second in wins and shutouts; and fifth in GAA.

In 13 playoff appearances last spring, Holtby ranked second among NHL goalies in GAA (1.71) and save percentage .944). He also led all goalies with three overtime losses, including a heartbreaking 2-1 setback to the Rangers in Game 7 of the second round.

As a result, the Capitals rewarded him with a five-year, $30.5 million contract, making him the seventh highest-paid goalie in the NHL.

Holtby made drastic strides under first-year goaltending coach Mitch Korn last season and he’ll be looking to build off that foundation this season. Holtby is at his best when he finds the balance between being active in his crease and “opening up” for shooters. He is one of the league’s best at handling the puck but can be guilty of being too aggressive trying to make a stretch pass. 

Projection: Mark this down. Braden Holtby will score a goal before he retires, and if it’s going to happen, why not this season? He came close a few times last season, but his main focus will be stopping goals, not scoring them. With Philipp Grubauer as his projected backup, look for Barry Trotz to reduce Holtby’s work load by about five games this season. That could cut his win totals from last season, but the framework has been build for another strong season.

Philipp Grubauer

Age: 23

Games: 49 (AHL)

Wins: 27

Losses: 17

Overtime losses: 2

Shutouts: 6

Goals-against average: 2.30

Save percentage: .921

Minutes: 2,918

2015-16 cap hit: $750,000

Analysis: In the opinion of Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann, Grubauer has accomplished everything he can at the American League level and is ready for the challenge of the NHL. Coupled with the subpar season Justin Peters had last year it is expected Grubauer will earn the role of Holtby’s backup this season, with Peters replacing him in Hershey.

A fourth-round pick of the Caps in 2010, Grubauer has been a picture of consistency since turning pro in 2011. In parts of two seasons in the ECHL he had a GAA of 2.25 and a save percentage of .916. In parts of three AHL seasons he’s had a GAA of 2.37 and a save percentage of .919. And in 20 NHL appearances he has a 2.44 GAA and .924 save percentage.

Projection: Grubauer does not have the puck-handling abilities of Holtby and he’ll work on those in his first full season under the direction of Korn. He is blessed with cat-like reflexes, is capable of making acrobatic saves, and has proven he can handle the pressures of playoff hockey, winning his first and only Stanley Cup appearance in Game 2 against the Islanders. If the Caps can give him close to 20 games this season, they’ll both be happy.

Justin Peters

Age: 28

Games: 12

Wins: 3

Losses: 6

Overtime losses: 1

Minutes: 647

Goals-against average: 3.25

Save percentage: .881

2015-16 cap hit: $950,000

Analysis: Last season was a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg year for Peters. Was he not as sharp as the Capitals wanted because he didn’t play enough? Or did he not play enough because he wasn’t very sharp? Either way, the Caps appear to be moving toward Grubauer and away from Peters, who is entering the final year of a two-year, $1.9 million contract.

Expected to start this season as Hershey’s No. 1 goalie, Peters will be in familiar territory. He has 221 games of AHL experience, where he’s gone 99-96-10 with a 2.71 GAA and .910 save percentage. Comparatively, in 80 games as an NHL backup to Cam Ward and Holtby, he’s gone 25-37-9 with a 3.08 GAA and .901 save percentage.

Projection: Peters should clear waivers and begin the season in Hershey. Barring injuries to Holtby or Grubauer, he should remain in Hershey for most of the season, hoping to resurrect a career that showed more promise 12 months ago.

Dan Ellis

Age: 35

Games: 37 (AHL)

Wins: 22

Losses: 12

Overtime losses: 0

Goals-against average: 2.71

Save percentage: .904

2015-16 cap hit: $575,000  

Analysis: Two days after trading goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley to the Blues in the T.J. Oshie deal, the Caps signed Ellis to a one-year, two-way contract that should bridge a gap while the Caps wait for prospects Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov to develop. Ellis has 12 years of pro experience, including three seasons in Nashville, where he played 110 games under Barry Trotz.

Ellis is no stranger to the AHL or the NHL, playing 195 games in the former and 212 in the latter, including an eight-game stint with the Florida Panthers last season, going 4-3-1.

Projection: While he lacks the consistency to be a starter in the NHL, Ellis has carved a long professional career and will battle Peters for the starting job in Hershey. If he wins that battle, Ellis would move into third on the Caps’ depth chart at goaltender, at least for this season.     

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ VS. BOUDREAU 

 

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Even with everything going right for the Capitals, the penalty kill continues to struggle

Even with everything going right for the Capitals, the penalty kill continues to struggle

It’s hard to punch holes in a team that has won five straight and 12 of its last 14, but if there is one cause for concern in recent days for the Capitals it is the penalty kill.

Washington gave up three power play goals to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and another two to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. In fact, Buffalo’s power play actually scored three times, but the first penalty to Michal Kempny on Saturday expired just as the goal was scored, literally exactly two minutes after the penalty was called. Officially, it was not considered a power play goal, but with the door just opening for Kempny to return, the Caps were still obviously shorthanded when the goal was scored.

Washington struggled on the penalty kill at the start of the season, but things improved dramatically when Tom Wilson returned from suspension. From Nov. 13 – when Wilson made his season debut – to Dec. 14, the penalty kill managed to kill off 85.-4 percent of the power plays it faced. The last two nights, however, the PK managed only 44.4-percent and that’s not counting the Sabres’ third goal that came as the penalty expired.

“We’ve got to continue to get better there,” Reirden said. “We had a stretch where we were doing a better job and then now it's finding its way, multiple ways, different ways into our net. That's not a winning recipe for success.”

So concerned about the penalty kill was Reirden after Friday’s game that he broke up the team’s red-hot fourth line in an attempt to add in another penalty killer. Reirden said before the game that the team’s metrics indicate Chandler Stephenson – who was a healthy scratch on Friday – is one of their better penalty killers. In order to get him back into the lineup, Reirden scratched Dmitrij Jaskin despite the incredible stretch he, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd have enjoyed in recent days.

Washington may have gotten the win on Saturday, but in terms of improving the penalty kill, the move did not work.

The numbers from Saturday may be bad, but if you are looking for a silver lining, it is the fact that none of Buffalo’s three goals seem to have come as a result of a defensive breakdown. Jack Eichel netted the kinda-sorta power play goal when goalie Pheonix Copley gave up a rebound right to him on the far-side. Eichel then made a great individual effort to score the second goal, victimizing Dmitry Orlov with some fancy stick work and tucking the puck into the net just over the shoulder of Copley. Rasmus Dahlin scored the third goal when a Jeff Skinner shot from the slot was blocked and came straight to the rookie defenseman.

“They weren't exactly tic-tac-toes,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “It happens. We’ve just got to stay the course and continue to get better.”

Of those three goals, the only one that looked like a bad play was the third as two Caps collapsed on Skinner leaving Dahlin open, but the point remains that the penalty kill did not appear to be egregiously bad.

Regardless of whether the goals are the result of breakdowns or bad luck, however, the fact is that the penalty kill is charged with keeping the puck out of the net it is has not been able to do so of late.

The Caps are off on Sunday, but will have two days of practice before Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, plenty of time to shore things up on a suddenly leaky PK.

Said Reirden, “It's an area that we've got to work on here while we've got some practice time this week before we play Pittsburgh.”

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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th 30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.” 


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