Predictably, Coach Dale Hunter wouldn’t disclose his starting goaltender for tonight’s meeting with the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.
But even if the Capitals’ bench boss is playing his cards close to the vest, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him go back to rookie Braden Holtby, who made 30 saves in an important 5-3 win over the Red Wings on Monday.
Holtby was the first healthy goaltender off the ice following the morning skate, typically an indication of that evening’s starter, and Hunter has a tendency to leave the lineup intact when the Capitals are coming off a win. In his last appearance, Michal Neuvirth allowed four goals on 28 shots in a 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks.
While Holtby wouldn’t divulge whether he will be the starter, he would relish the chance to play again.
“As a goalie you always want to be in those pressure situations,” Holtby said, “And this time of year it’s a playoff race.”
If Holtby, 22, does face the Flyers on Thursday it would mark just his third start of the 2011-12 season. Holtby has faced Philadelphia once before, back on Nov. 7, 2010, when he stopped 23 of 25 shots to earn his first NHL win in a 3-2 overtime victory for the Capitals at Verizon Center.
He also isn’t afraid to stand his ground against any pressure the Flyers might bring to his crease.
“I like to play a more physical game,” Holtby said. “In fact, I like when the team is in your face and whatnot. That’s kind of my game, it brings a challenge and competitiveness in me that makes it more fun.”
Holtby’s no-nonsense style of responding to physical play from opponents as well as his ability to play the puck well has occasionally drawn comparisons to former Philadelphia netminder Ron Hextall. The Capitals’ prospect, who was born in 1989, won’t go that far, though, and admits that Hextall was a little “before my time.”
“I never got to see him play in action,” Holtby said, “but any time that a competitor like that who’s successful in the league for a long time — to be compared to his style is obviously an honor. But I’m definitely not Ron Hextall. He’s a legend in the game.”
A couple other quick notes:
— Spoke with Tomas Vokoun briefly and the veteran netminder says he’s feeling better. Vokoun skated for roughly 20 minutes Monday but said he’s taking it slow with his strained groin muscle — the first such injury of his career — to avoid another setback.
— Back in Arlington, Nicklas Backstrom skated for roughly an hour, according to a team spokesman. This marks the ninth time in the past 10 days that Backstrom, who has been sidelined by a concussion since Jan. 3, has skated.