LOOK­ING FOR RE­DEMP­TION

Caps’ Holtby strug­gling in playoffs

Regina Leader-Post - - SPORTS - MIKE ZEISBERGER mzeis­berger@postmedia.com twit­ter.com/zeisberger

Had pucks hit Braden Holtby as flush in Game 4 as team­mate Mar­cus Jo­hans­son did at the morn­ing skate seven hours ear­lier, maybe there wouldn’t be all th­ese what’s-wrong-with-the-Wash­ing­ton-Cap­i­tals-goal­tender ques­tions go­ing around.

To re­cap: A hush fell over the Air Canada Cen­tre mid­day Wed­nes­day when Jo­hans­son col­lided with Holtby, send­ing the de­fend­ing Vez­ina Tro­phy win­ner to the ice with a thud. For­tu­nately Holtby was back on his feet within sec­onds, later laugh­ing it off as just a “hockey play.”

Of course, af­ter watch­ing yet an­other shaky per­for­mance by Holtby in Wash­ing­ton’s 5-4 vic­tory over the Maple Leafs later that day, cyn­ics would sug­gest he was still feel­ing the ef­fects of be­ing plowed into by Jo­hans­son.

What­ever the rea­son, Holtby was jug­gling and bob­bling shots as if live hand grenades were be­ing fired at him.

The ob­vi­ous ex­pla­na­tion was a com­bi­na­tion of “bounces” and “de­flec­tions,” two words Holtby and Cap­i­tals head coach Barry Trotz were quick to use af­ter the game. But even such grounded logic hasn’t stopped the sec­ondguess­ing of Holtby in this se­ries, which is knot­ted at 2-2 head­ing into Game 5 on Fri­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

To that end, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported the Caps con­sid­ered pulling Holtby in favour of backup Philipp Grubauer to start the third pe­riod with the vis­i­tors nurs­ing a 4-2 lead. But be­cause the Leafs were go­ing to step onto the ice out of the in­ter­mis­sion with a two-man ad­van­tage for 114 sec­onds, it might have been too much to ask Grubauer to en­ter the game in that sit­u­a­tion.

While the Caps had a day off Thurs­day, Holtby was on the ice, stretch­ing. Say what you want about his spotty play of late, this 27-year-old from Lloy­d­min­ster is one fo­cused com­peti­tor who has his eyes on the prize.

His 3.07 goals-against av­er­age and .907 save per­cent­age are un-Holtby-like. But when asked by re­porters Wed­nes­day about Holtby’s in­con­sis­tency, Trotz replied: “It’s hard to gauge it be­cause they’ve had a lot of strange stuff.”

“Dur­ing the year, goalies, they do ev­ery­thing on pre­dictabil­ity and there are a lot of things that aren’t very predictable right now, and that’s what at times makes Braden look like he’s not there,” he said. “But it’s bounc­ing off four dif­fer­ent guys, so he’s mov­ing to the puck. He’s play­ing fine. It’s just not very predictable right now be­cause there is stuff that is bounc­ing all over. It’s a pin­ball ma­chine out there a lit­tle bit …

“He’s a tough goal­tender. One thing I know about Braden is that he’s got some good Saskatchewan blood in him. He’s hard-nosed and he fights through that.”

As for Holtby be­ing out on the ice while most of his team­mates were recharg­ing their bat­ter­ies, Trotz said the rea­son was sim­ple.

“He’s a guy that wants to work and do stuff,” Trotz said. “He asked if he could come out and do some stuff just to keep his body (ready).”

De­spite Trotz’s words, there con­tin­ues to be sec­ond-guess­ing of Holtby’s game, in­clud­ing in­sin­u­a­tions within the lo­cal me­dia that the Cap­i­tals are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion closely.

This much is cer­tain: The best way for Holtby to si­lence all the chat­ter is to re­vert to the form that led him to 42 vic­to­ries dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. In the end, that’s all any­one — in­clud­ing Trotz and Holtby him­self — can ask for.

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Toronto Maple Leafs cen­tre Nazem Kadri watches the puck go into the net on Wed­nes­day in Toronto. Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals goal­tender Braden Holtby al­lowed four goals in the game.

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