LOOKING FOR REDEMPTION
Caps’ Holtby struggling in playoffs
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.
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.