Braden Holtby determined to improve while waiting for next start

January 3

Braden Holtby hasn’t started since Dec. 21 against New Jersey. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

It hasn’t been easy for Braden Holtby to sit on the bench and wait his turn to start again, but as it approaches two weeks since he last appeared in a game, the 24-year-old continues to stay focused on what he can do to improve whenever the opportunity comes.

“You go through rough spots in years, it happens. You just keep working,” said Holtby, who recorded 33 saves in a 3-2 shootout win over the Wild back on Nov. 7. “The last few days I’ve been feeling a lot better in goal and seeing the puck a lot better and getting back to the basics, so whenever my chance is to help the team I’ll be ready.”

Coach Adam Oates wouldn’t divulge which goaltender he intends to start Saturday in Minnesota, but he did offer some insight into how he handles choosing a starter and why he’s stuck with Philipp Grubauer over the past week even though the Capitals have lost three straight.

In this three-game stretch Grubauer has stopped 80 of the 87 shots he’s faced, has a .920 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average. More important to Oates than the numbers alone, though, was that Grubauer’s play didn’t cost Washington a chance to win. Even though Grubauer has lost these past few games, he believes the goaltender played well enough to warrant another start and used it as an example in a recent conversation with Holtby.

“You’ve got to be honest and fair and I try to be as much as possible. There’s been some times where I told [Holtby] he was going to play and I changed my mind. Ottawa’s one of them,”  Oates said.

“We lost in Ottawa but I felt Grubi played a good game. I felt bad he didn’t get the win but I don’t feel that he’s not giving us a chance to win,” Oates said. “That’s part of what a goalie’s job is. Obviously every once in a while you want a guy to steal one for you but I just need him to play good and playing good [through the] adjustments we’re trying to make going forward.”

Oates said while there’s plays Grubauer could improve on from the 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina, he felt the young netminder played well. “The goals against were still on us more than the goalie,” Oates said.

Regardless, when the next start comes, Holtby is determined to be ready and doesn’t focus on how the time off could impact his game.

“Obviously playing a lot of games is easier to keep in game form but I think there’s always ways you can stay sharp and stay ready,” Holtby said. “We’re doing a lot of simple drills to get back to the core foundation and working yourself out from there. It’s working. It’s getting my game a lot tighter and a lot smoother.”

Here’s the lineup the Capitals used in practice Friday

Johansson-Backstrom-Brouwer
Fehr-Grabovski-Ovechkin
Chimera-Laich-Ward
Erat-Beagle-Wilson
Volpatti and Latta (LTIR) rotated in on drills

Alzner-Carlson
Orlov-Green
Erskine-Oleksy
Urbom as an extra

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Katie Carrera · January 3

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