Like many, goalie Braden Holtby watched coverage of the first day of NHL free agency on TSN and wondered what route the Capitals might pursue once they traded Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche. It was a move that pushed Holtby up the depth chart, but only temporarily.
The next day, the Saskatchewan native received a text from a friend with the news that Washington had signed Tomas Vokoun, and Holtby was suddenly right back where he started the offseason.
“Obviously it was bit of a stressful week, the [start] of free agency, but you know, that happens, that’s the business,” Holtby said Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I really had no idea what they were going to do coming into it. I kind of expected if they moved Varly they might go after a veteran guy — I wasn’t real sure — so it wasn’t too much of a shock.”
Holtby will likely have a similar role in 2011-12 to the one he had last season, when he started regularly for the Hershey Bears and filled in when needed for the Capitals. But the 21-year-old netminder knows there is more he can do to improve.
During the 2010-11 season, Holtby appeared in 14 games for the Capitals, accumulating a .934 save percentage and 1.79 goals against average while going 10-2-2. In Hershey, he went 17-10-2 with a .920 save percentage and 2.29. His focus of reaching the NHL remains unchanged, Holtby said, but it is equally important for him to be consistent not only when recalled to Washington, but day in and day out in the AHL.
“The consistency up here for me is probably going to be a lot easier than down there because there’s a lot on the line, there’s a lot of excitement. It’s easier to get your mind in a state where you play your best,” Holtby said. “The hardest part is probably going to be a road trip to Springfield on a Sunday or something and playing your best in games like that.
“That’s one thing I did struggle with last year,” Holtby continued. “Sometimes I would just not get up for games in the AHL. I’d try my best, but just I think the experience part of knowing what I’m going to go through when I go into those situations now is going to help me tremendously.”
Holtby hasn’t spoken much yet with new associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig, who will work with the netminders in Hershey and the ECHL’s South Carolina, but he said he’s excited to work with the former Capital during training camp.
Dave Prior routinely visited Holtby in Hershey last season, and the young goaltender is hoping he can build an equally constructive relationship with his new mentor.
“I think we really got to know each other a bit more, and in that way we had a better teacher-student relationship than we had in the past,” Holtby said of his work with Prior. “I really understood what he was talking about a bit more, and that was a good thing when he came down.
“That’s the same relationship I want to build with Olie. I don’t know if it will be easier or harder because he’s a player, we’re both competitive — everyone knows that. I don’t know if we’re going to butt heads or if it’s going to mesh really well, but I’m looking forward to it.”