On Monday, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz dedicated a portion of practice to working on the shootout.
A couple of reasons: The Caps haven’t been good at them this season and that extra point might just come in handy given how tight the standings have become.
On Thursday night, that extra work paid off in a pivotal 2-1 shootout win over the visiting Blue Jackets.
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With the win, the Caps improved to 2-5 in games decided by the skills competition. More important, though, it helped Washington grow its lead over Pittsburgh and Columbus to two and three standings points, respectively, with nine games left to play.
“Winning in a shootout, which we have not been good at all year, Holts was the guy,” Trotz said, referring to Braden Holtby, who had not won a shootout in five tries. “That was great. That extra point might be huuuge. It might be absolutely huge.”
Of the practice, Trotz said: “It’s paying dividends. We’re working on parts of our game that we need to make sure that we are good at.”
The Caps’ leading scorer and penalty shot specialist, T.J. Oshie, scored the only goal in the shootout. In the 2014 Sochi Games, Oshie beat Bobrovsky four times in penalty shots to lift the United States over Russia. Three times he went 5-hole.
“I thought about it for five seconds, maybe,” Oshie said Thursday night. “I was going to come in and do something different from what I remembered. I saw something different and decided to go 5-hole.”
Oshie added: “I felt pretty fortunate, and luckily that’s the only one we needed because Holts shut the door on the other end.”
Holtby, meantime, made saves on both of the Columbus attempts that were on goal. Another missed the net.
Afterward, the veteran goalie credited the extra work on Monday. In that practice session, Trotz asked Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Kevin Shattenkirk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams to take two shots each on Holtby, who was watched closely by the coaching staff.
“We worked on it a little bit,” Holtby said. “It’s something that I try not to fiddle around with too much because I don’t want it creeping into my regular game because a breakaway is totally different than a shootout. But with the race getting pretty close, [in case we had] another one, we worked on it a couple of days ago in practice to try and get a little better at that for the stretch run.”
And they did get a little better at it. And just at the right time.
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