Braden Holtby will make his first career appearance against the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday afternoon as the Capitals turn to him for a second consecutive start.
While he has yet to face Pittsburgh or their cast of offensive stars, Holtby insisted that the buildup for a rivalry meeting on Super Bowl Sunday won’t change his outlook or approach to the contest.
“It’s just another game. I don’t really put too much emphasis on rivalries and whatnot,” Holtby said. “Once you start thinking about those things is when you get wrapped up in the game and forget what we have to prepare for. Right now it’s early on in the season, we’re battling to get back to where we want to get to and tomorrow we have to focus on the game, not the opponent.”
Holtby finished with 29 saves in Washington’s 3-2 win over the Flyers Friday and Coach Adam Oates made the decision about who would face Pittsburgh sound simple.
“He played solid and he won,” Oates said. “Ride a hot goalie.”’
Holtby hadn’t played for 10 days prior to the Philadelphia start, in which neither of the two goals could be blamed exclusively on the goaltender. Being able to get a second game in three days is something Holtby is looking forward to.
“We played very well [against the Flyers] and I happened to be the beneficiary of that,” Holtby said. “I get the opportunity to play again, and my job is to give us a chance to win against Pittsburgh.”
Michal Neuvirth, who is 2-0-1 in his last three starts against the Penguins with a .954 save percentage, 1.32 goals-against average and two shutouts, will serve as backup. Those contests came after Pittsburgh Coach Dan Bylsma stoked Neuvirth’s competitive fires by saying the goaltender’s glove hand was “shaky” during an episode of HBO’s “24/7.”
In net for Pittsburgh will be former Capitals goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who is 2-1-0 with a 1.81 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
The Capitals held an optional skate Saturday in Arlington but attendance was strong. Only Alex Ovechkin, Mike Ribeiro and Mike Green opted not to take part in the on-ice workout with their teammates.
With so many games in so few days, it’s been tough for Oates and the coaching staff to balance the need for practice and the need for recovery time.
“It is a noon game, I left it up to them to decide what’s the best way for them to prepare for tomorrow,” Oates said. “Whatever they felt is in their best interests. I kind of know what I would have done as a player, but some guys need to go get sweat.”
So would you have taken the day off?
“Yeah. I would have taken off,” Oates said with a smile. “Save it all for tomorrow.”