Florida Panthers winger Kris Versteeg carried the puck down the ice as part of a developing two-on-one with rookie Jonathan Humberdeau with just under nine minutes remaining in the first period Saturday night at Verizon Center. He opted not to make a pass through defenseman Jeff Schultz and fired a wrister that Braden Holtby calmly caught in his glove.
It was an important save that kept the game scoreless and one that Coach Adam Oates said was crucial for the Capitals en route to their 5-0 win over the Panthers.
“Great for Braden. He made the big save early for us, what we needed,” Oates said. “After that we didn’t give them much and scored some goals.”
Holtby finished with 27 saves for his fourth career shutout and gave Washington something it had been lacking throughout the previous 11 games of the season – important saves when it needed them.
Ultimately he only faced a handful of quality chances because the rest of the team was able to limit Florida’s looks and make sure that Holtby was able to see the pucks heading his direction.
“The type of shots they were, though, they were ones I know I have the capability to stop,” Holtby said. “Traffic in front of the net was nonexistent today because our forwards really took it to heart this last little while that we need to bear down on our end. It was outstanding tonight. We’re going to need that moving forward.”
For as complimentary as Holtby was of his teammates, they were equally pleased to have the momentum building stops early.
“That’s what we need in the first period, a couple of big saves for us,” Mathieu Perreault said. “And this is what we’ve been looking for goalie [to play well] and hopefully we get more of that.”
In addition to the saves he made, Holtby contributed to the offensive outburst as well. With the Capitals on the power play early in the second period, Holtby caught the Panthers’ penalty kill making a line change as he corralled the puck near the crease. Holtby sent a perfect saucer pass up ice to the offensive blueline where Troy Brouwer was waiting along the right side boards.
Brouwer then carried the puck into the Panthers’ zone and blasted a slap shot into the top left corner past Jose Theodore to make it 2-0.
“They gave me an opening. Obviously in the second period it’s easy to make that play with the long change,” Holtby said. “I usually just make it to try to get possession in their end earlier. I didn’t expect Troy to absolutely let out a bomb there. It was a great shot.”
Holtby’s puck-handling skills are certainly no secret, but that’s still not a play that comes together every game.
“He moves the puck as well as any goalie and for him to have the vision to see up the ice and be able to make his pass, it’s pretty special by him,” Brouwer said. “Those aren’t plays that you try and plan, so when he was able to make the play and get it all the way out – and flat too – it was, I’m not going to say surprising, but it was good timing.”