The Washington Capitals have been pressed into a goalie carousel this season in part because of injuries, and during this latest stretch, Coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned on Braden Holtby in net.
Last night, Holtby made his third consecutive start, and although Washington lost to the New York Rangers in a shootout, 2-1, the rookie continued to make a case that he can be entrusted with those duties in the long term if either Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth are unavailable.
Holtby stopped 28 of 29 shots, helping the Capitals collect a point for a fifth straight game. A fluky bounce led to the Rangers' goal in regulation, which officials had to review before allowing it to stand. The puck first hit off Holtby's right arm blocker after Brian Boyle's shot, then bounced off New York right wing Marian Gaborik and sailed into the net amid congestion in front of the crease.
"It was a goal that even the Rangers didn't know they scored," Boudreau said. "So when you hold a team to one goal, for 30 shots, he did very well."
It was Holtby's first loss in three games since being recalled from Hershey as Neuvirth mends from a lower body injury suffered in a 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 18. Holtby beat the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Thursday, stopping 24 shots. Two days later, he made 35 saves in a 4-1 victory at Toronto.
Holtby, 21, didn't get much help from his teammates through the first two-plus periods Monday night, when the Capitals managed 13 shots. Washington cranked up the pressure thereafter, though, and logged a season-high six overtime shots to just one for the Rangers.
"There were some lucky bounces," said Holtby, who has stopped 87 of 90 shots in his past three starts. "But when a team is throwing pucks at the net from up top, one of them is bound to go in after a while. You can't really blame anyone on that. That's just kind of a bounce that you're going to have to deal with."
If there was any part of Holtby's performance that needed refinement, preventing rebounds was it. He let a handful get away but escaped trouble until that unlikely carom.
In his seventh start of the season, Holtby also was unsteady during the first shootout of his career, yielding three goals, including the winner to Artem Anisimov. Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello, who is 4 for 4 in shootouts, also beat Holtby.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't feel like I played that strongly throughout the game," Holtby said. "I thought my rebounds were pretty bad, and when that bounce went in, all I could really say was one finally went in because I got away with numerous mistakes before that."