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Seeing Braden Holtby pulled was the 'biggest disappointment' for Caps in Monday's loss

Seeing Braden Holtby pulled was the 'biggest disappointment' for Caps in Monday's loss

It’s hard to fault Braden Holtby too much for Monday’s loss. While he did allow three goals on just 11 shots, none of those goals could be labeled “soft.”

Whether Devin Shore was guilty of goalie interference or not, his position in the crease did not allow Holtby to get over to break up a wraparound opportunity that results in Dallas' first goal. The second goal was the result of an egregious turnover from Nicklas Backstrom and the third goal only happens because Dmitry Orlov couldn’t corral the puck off a dump-in by the Stars.

Yet, while Jason Spezza was still celebrating his goal to make the score 3-0, Philipp Grubauer was already grabbing his glove and mask and hopping onto the ice.

“I was just trying to change the momentum a little bit taking Holts out,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “I didn't think we were playing that hard in front of him so once they got three, I felt just change it up and I thought we sort of went from there a little bit better.”

The Caps seemed to respond as they scored the next two goals to pull within one in the third period. Grubauer stopped all 10 shots he faced and Dallas did not score again until an empty-netter from Patrick Sharp late in the game.

The loss ended a 15-game home win streak and prevented Washington from getting its first home win against Dallas since 2006, but the part that stung the most for the team was watching as Holtby was pulled.

“I think the biggest disappointment is Holts getting pulled there,” T.J. Oshie said. “For how many times he's saved us this year and how many wins he's gotten, it's a bad feeling when he has to leave the net.”

Hotlby has been one of the top goalies in the past few months and was named the NHL's Third Star of the Month for February after going 8-0-1 in nine with a 1.88 GAA and .928 save percentage.

Monday’s loss was his first in 20 decisions (17-1-2), snapping a streak dating back to Dec. 29. Dallas remains the lone team Holtby has not beaten, excluding the Capitals. Now he will have to wait until next season for his next chance.

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Prediction recap: Caps pull out narrow Metropolitan Division win

Prediction recap: Caps pull out narrow Metropolitan Division win

The Caps earned two critical points to increase their lead in the Metropolitan Division race thanks to a 2-1 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Here’s a recap of the three bold predictions for the game.

1. Neither team will score on the power play - Correct

Columbus had no power play opportunities until the third period when the Caps took two penalties. The Blue Jackets, however, failed to cash in. Washington, meanwhile, had three opportunities for the game, but was held off the board.

RELATED: Shootout practice pays off for Caps

2. Washington will score at least three goals - Wrong

Sergei Bobrovsky looked every bit the Vezina contender as he turned aside a season-high 44 shots he faced limiting the Caps to only one goal. Good thing Washington has Braden Holtby. Holtby matched Bobrovsky by giving up only one goal for the game.

3. Brett Connolly, Lars Eller or Andre Burakovsky will score - Wrong

The third line had its worst game since Burakovsky’s return showing the J.J. curse is alive and well.

2017 Results: Like both Columbus and Pittsburgh, I earned a point on Thursday but failed to gain any ground.

Correct: 36
Wrong: 64.5
Push: 3

MORE CAPITALS: Caps put distance between them and divisional foes

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Shootout practice pays off for Caps on Thursday night

Shootout practice pays off for Caps on Thursday night

On Monday, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz dedicated a portion of practice to working on the shootout.

Why?

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.

RELATED: Caps put distance between them and divisional foes

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.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps win goalie duel in shootou