ST. PAUL, Minn. — Exactly two weeks since his last start, Braden Holtby will be back in net for the Capitals on Saturday night as they visit the Minnesota Wild.
“He’s had a long time to reset himself and hopefully he give us a good game,” Coach Adam Oates said.
For Holtby, 24, this is an opportunity to reassert himself after the long layoff during which Philipp Grubauer became the latest goaltender to challenge for the top spot in Washington. With so many days between appearances, though, Holtby will have to get himself back in a groove quickly.
“It has a lot to do with the pregame preparation, getting your mind into that spot where you’re comfortable. I think the biggest part is at the start of the game, just expect the unexpected,” Holtby said. “It’s always nice to get a few feel-good shots at the start but that’s not always the case so I have to be sharp mentally to be prepared for whenever that first shot comes, whatever it is.”
He recorded 33 saves in a 3-2 shootout win over the Wild on Nov. 7 but this game is less about the opponent and more about Holtby and the Capitals finding a way to snap the team’s three-game losing streak. During the past two weeks Holtby has worked on refining how he views shots as they come off a player’s stick and believes he’s ready to put what he’s learned to work.
They’re subtle reads and adjustments, nothing that fundamentally changes his game.
“Not as drastic [changes] as the start, just little things now. Mainly to get my tracking better again to make sure I’m seeing the puck off the blade a bit better that’s one of the things I wanted to work on,” Holtby said. “But the main thing is when I get on the ice ill be myself. That’s one thing that will never change.”
Grubauer, who started nine of the past 12 games, will back up Holtby while Michal Neuvirth will sit out as a healthy scratch for a 10th straight game.
>> Brooks Laich is expected to appear in consecutive games for the first time since late November and is slated to start Saturday’s game as third-line center. Laich, who has been limited by a nagging groin injury this season, said he’s still trying to get back in a rhythm of what his body can handle and contemplated taking the morning skate off but ultimately decided to take to the ice. Even if he hadn’t skated this morning though, Laich said he would be ready to face the Wild.
>> Laich back in the mix makes Martin Erat the veteran forward without a spot in the top three lines once again. Erat will suit up as left wing on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson as he did in the first seven games of the regular season, usage that prompted him to originally request the Capitals trade him. Aaron Volpatti and Alex Urbom will sit out as healthy scratches.
>> Here are the projected lineups for both teams.
Dany Heatley-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Zucker
Matt Cooke-Charlie Coyle-Brett Bulmer
Stephane Veilleux-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner-Keith Ballard
Niklas Backstrom will start, Darcy Kuemper will back up.