Capitals beat out the Flames
Capitals coach Adam Oates could have turned to goaltender Michal Neuvirth for tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars in American Airlines Center [7:30 p.m., CSN] and no one would have questioned his decision.
In a little less than four periods this season Braden Holtby has allowed eight goals on 45 shots for a 6.32 goals-against average and an .822 save percentage.
In a little more than two periods of relief Thursday night Neuvirth stopped 27 of 28 shots for a 1.22 GAA and .964 save percentage.
But Oates wasted little time giving his starting goalie a firm vote of confidence, naming Holtby his starter immediately after Thursday’s 5-4 shootout win over the Calgary Flames, a game in which Holtby was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots.
“It’s nice when a coach has trust in you,” Holtby said. “I’d like to get back in there and give a better effort.”
To be fair, the Capitals traded chances with the Blackhawks in their season-opening 6-4 loss in Chicago Tuesday night, forcing Holtby to stop quality chances by Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. He said he misplayed Johnny Oduya’s game-winner in that game and had trouble with his positioning in Thursday night’s game against Calgary, a game in which he was pulled 16:22 into the game.
“It happens,” Holtby said. “It’s probably the worst feeling in hockey. But at that point in the game a coach makes changes and it obviously worked. That’s the nature of the sport. If you don’t perform you don’t play.”
Throughout training camp Holtby worked with goaltending coach Olie Kolzig on better positioning in the crease, especially during scrambles in front of the net, in an effort to “make a save you’re not supposed to make,” he said.
Last season Holtby, 24, got to a similarly slow start, allowing 10 goals in his first two starts. He said it’s taking him some time to make those adjustments and he wants to reach a point that they come naturally, without a lot of thought.
“When you start struggling you go back to old ways,” Holtby said. “Any changes you make you haven’t used your whole life take a little bit of work.
“It’s definitely working, it’s just ingraining it into your mind to do it naturally. The first two games I was thinking too much about positioning and less about basics of the game. I’ll be better next game.”
Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said he has no concerns that Holtby will rebound from his first two games.
“A couple of those shots were seeing-eye shots that went in,” Chimera said. “Your goaltender seems to get more blame than he should have. As players we should take more blame than the goalie should. I’ve got nothing but confidence in Holtsy.”