With a little less than four minutes remaining in the first period of Game 4 Wednesday night, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby came out to play the puck low in the right faceoff circle.
It was a routine play for Holtby, who handles the puck and is relied upon by his coaches and teammates to serve essentially as a third defenseman, retrieving dump-ins and helping to speed breakouts.
But on this occasion, things didn’t go as Holtby planned. Taylor Pyatt batted the clearing attempt out of mid-air in the center of the Washington zone to create a scramble that led to the Rangers taking a 1-0 lead on a goal by Brad Richards.
“I thought I made the right play. I just need to get that a foot higher in the air, make him take a high stick,” Holtby said following the game Wednesday. “He made a great play knocking that down. He doesn’t make that, that’s a breakaway the other way. That happens.”
After the game Coach Adam Oates reiterated his confidence in the 23-year-old netminder’s puck handling abilities, even if it wasn’t a shining moment for Holtby.
“Probably, obviously in hindsight he could’ve made a better decision, gone up the wall,” Oates said. “But he saw something and we trust him.”
As costly a mistake as the failed clearing attempt was, don’t expect the Capitals to discourage Holtby from handling the puck. Oates likes having a goaltender who handles the puck well; it works within his system, and an occasional error that leads to a goal against isn’t going to change that.
“He got a tough break on the first goal last night. I already talked to him about it,” Oates said Thursday. “I ask the guy to handle the puck a lot and accidents happen. We have to score more than one goal. Holts is a very good goalie and we believe in him.”
Oates isn’t the only one. Holtby’s teammates were quick to back their goaltender and downplay the error that allowed New York to jump ahead 1-0 in Game 4, and they have little doubt that the Saskatchewan native will come out even more focused for Game 5 on Friday.
“We still have lots of game and everybody make mistakes,” Alex Ovechkin said. “He makes mistake, but how many time he save us? No pressure for him. He’s all right.”
Said Joel Ward: “He’s our guy. He’s our go-to guy all year and we’re excited to have him as our goalie. We know he’s gonna bounce back and have a heck of a game.”