Thursday night’s game was still scoreless when a turnover by Washington’s power play resulted in a short-handed breakaway for Hurricanes winger Alexander Semin. As the former Capital skated in alone on net a hush fell over the Verizon Center crowd. But when Semin attempted a glove-side wrister, Braden Holtby turned it aside with ease.
The stop was just the fourth of 33 saves that Holtby would make in the Capitals’ 3-0 win over Carolina, his second shutout of the season and fifth of his career. But the save against Semin was the type of momentum builder that has become routine for the 23-year-old netminder over the course of seven consecutive starts dating to Feb. 9.
“That’s a game-changer right there. They go up 1-0 it’s a different game. It was nice when you make that save and he played great the rest of the night too,” defenseman Tom Poti said. “You know that your goalie’s in it when he makes a huge save like that on a great player like Semin. We know he’s in it and he’s going to be fighting for us all night.”
Holtby improved to 5-2-0 with a .937 save percentage, having stopped 207 of 221 shots, during his starts streak.
Holtby is quick to credit the Capitals’ improving defensive play and system work to his recent success but when the highly skilled Semin was racing toward the net and there was no possibility of help, the netminder relied on his instincts and remained patient.
“You know, any really skilled player like that, you have to be as patient as you can,” Holtby said. “I don’t think he shot it exactly where he wanted it to, but yeah, I just tried to be patient and it hit me.
“A guy like that is never easy to play against if he’s on his game. If he decides to play, he could be the best player in the world, so you have to be aware of that,” Holtby added. “Any skill player like that, you have to be aware of where he is on the ice all the time.”
A turnover at the blue line on a power play obviously is not something the Capitals want to see – and for the most part they were able to minimize quality opportunities Carolina could create — but it’s certainly reassuring for his teammates to see Holtby bail them out when they needed him to.
“For mishaps like that and for him to go on a breakaway, we didn’t want to be down, for sure. I thought we’ve been working pretty hard the last couple days,” Joel Ward said. “We’ve been looking forward to this game, especially a divisional game, and to be down like that on a breakaway [would have been] tough. It was a big save for sure, definitely kept us in it right from the start.”
Coach Adam Oates wouldn’t say whether he will use Holtby again tomorrow when the Capitals visit the Philadelphia Flyers, but it’s clear that the netminder’s confident play is a positive influence on the rest of the team.
“It’s great. It’s great to have him back there and his confidence is great right now and we have that confidence in him,” John Carlson said. “I think we play off of each other and I think that’s what you look for.”