Holtby urges Caps to keep foot on the gas

Holtby urges Caps to keep foot on the gas
February 11, 2013, 7:15 am
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Holtby, Caps rebound confidence

He did his best to deny it after the game, but no one needed Saturday night’s 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers more than Braden Holtby.

The 22-year-old goaltender entered the game under the harsh scrutiny of his general manager, coach and increasingly impatient fan base that expected more from Holtby after his inspiring performance in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

After his 27-save shutout, his first of the season and fourth of his NHL career, Holtby was asked if the recent criticism from George McPhee and Adam Oates had sparked his competitive fire.

“Other people saying that doesn’t even come close to the pressure we put on ourselves in this room,” Holtby said.

Which brings us to the closed-door meeting the players conducted prior to Saturday night’s game. The message in that meeting was crystal clear: playing good and losing simply wasn’t good enough. The Caps needed to start doing all the little things that win games.

Like blocking shots, winning faceoffs and clearing opponents from the front of the net.

The Caps did all three on Saturday. Twelve different players blocked shots in front of Holtby, led by three blocks each from John Carlson and Karl Alzner. The Caps won 51 percent of their faceoffs, led by Jay Beagle [4-for-6]. And there was hardly a shot Holtby had to crane his neck to see.

“The traffic in front of the net was non-existent,” Holtby said. “Our D and our forwards really took it to heart that we need to bear down on our end and it was outstanding. We’re going to need that to keep moving forward.”

With the shutout, the Caps’ first of the season, Holtby’s goals-against average  dropped from 4.73 to 3.87 and .his save percentage improved from .857 to . 879. But Holtby and the Caps still have a very long way to climb back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference standings.

With an offense that has struggled to score goals this season – the Caps have scored more than three goals just once  -- Holtby will need to lower that GAA below 3.00 and push his save percentage above 90 percent if the Caps hope to challenge for a playoff spot.

Entering Monday night’s action, they remain last in the NHL with a 3-8-1 record, five points out of a playoff spot and five behind the SoutheastDivision-leadingTampaBay Lightning, whom they’ll face Thursday night in Tampa.

Every journey must start with a single step and Saturday’s was a significant one for the Caps. The next will take place Tuesday night in Sunrise, Fla., when they take on the Panthers for the second time in four days.

“I think any win at this point is what we’re looking for,” Holtby said. “We already gave ourselves a big enough hole with being complacent, but right now we’re not going to step off of the gas for the rest of the year. That’s our plan and we’re going to do it.”