Saturday’s game against Montreal was everything that the Capitals’ loss to Ottawa on Friday night was not. Washington was assertive, dominated the play with aggressive forechecking and methodical play through the neutral and defensive zones and won, 2-0, with precisely the type of game that has become the Capitals’ hallmark more often than not this season.
You can read more about the defense and what the Capitals did right to capture their 14th win in the last 17 games in my story for today’s hard-copy edition. Backstopping that effort when there were a few random breakdowns in Washington’s end, though, was Braden Holtby, who is 2-0-0 in “Hockey Night in Canada” games. He was also a key part in handing the Canadiens their third consecutive shutout — something that hasn’t occured for the storied club since October 1949.
Holtby made 18 saves to earn the second shutout of his NHL career. Each of the Capitals’ trio of young netminders has at least a pair of shutouts to their credit this season; Michal Neuvirth has four and Semyon Varlamov has two.
One of the toughest challenges this game may have posed for Holtby, who was recalled from Hershey to start with Neuvirth ill and the team hesitant to put Varlamov in back-to-back games immediately upon his return to the lineup, was remaining poised and present when his teammates were holding the Canadiens to a paltry three shots in the first period.
“You just keep telling yourself kind of the same things to stay in the game that you do every game,” Holtby said. “There was enough action in our end that it kind of kept me into it. Our guys just didn’t let any scoring chances. In the second period I was able to get a couple lucky bounces with a few scrambles and kind of got into the game then.”
The second period was when the Canadiens pushed the most and on a few instances caught the Capitals unaware or in the midst of one of only a few breakdowns. But Holtby’s ability to recover from odd situations — like being tangled up with John Carlson at one poi after being knocked out of position — helped Washington when it needed it most.
For as much support as the Capitals’ defense gave Holtby, his ability to weather the opportunities Montreal did get gave the rest of the team a boost, Coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“He did a great job. He looked like he was in control,” Boudreau said. “Pucks were coming; he was fairly casual with that glove picking up a couple – scared us – but he seemed like he knew what he was doing. He gave that team a lot of confidence.”
Holtby credited most of his success to the defense and commitment to the game plan in front of him.
Montreal “had a bit of a push in the second period other than that they didn’t get much,” Holtby said. “I don’t know what was going on with all that but I think it was more a credit to us. We stuck to our system all game, we forechecked as best you can and I think that’s the main reason why they didn’t get many opportunities.”