ST. PAUL, Minn. –In the visitors’ dressing room at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night, it wasn’t hard to see that, at this juncture, Braden Holtby is not the self-assured young goaltender who came into the season as the Capitals’ number one.
After going two weeks between starts, Holtby allowed five goals on 11 shots in a 5-3 defeat to the Wild here in his first appearance since Dec. 21. While it’s difficult to fault Holtby for three of the tallies, the 24-year-old has now allowed five goals in each of his past three starts (a combined 68 saves on 83 shots) and he acknowledged that his challenge is to rebuild his confidence.
“It’s all about getting the confidence back, somehow some way,” Holtby said. “If I’m full of confidence I guess I make that fifth goal save that one that could really keep us in the game. That’s the one I really don’t like. That’s the one I need to have. The other four, do what you want on them. Maybe I play them differently maybe they still go in, who knows. But that fifth one is something – I’ll work on the 2-on-1s and make sure I’m better and work on screens obviously.”
This game turned out to be a perfect storm for Holtby. To go two weeks with no game action and then face only one shot in the opening 20 minutes is hardly the type of work that lets a goaltender find a rhythm in a contest. Minnesota scored on its second shot of the game, 2:16 into the second period, when Nino Niederreiter beat Holtby glove side on a shot you’d like to see him have but it also was an opportunity created by mistakes from the Capitals in the offensive and defensive zone.
Holtby never saw either of the next two goals, both power-play tallies by Ryan Suter through a screen created by Dany Heatley. The fourth Wild goal, another on the power play, came on a fluky bounce.
But the fifth goal, when Suter scored on a 2-on-1 with Clayton Stoner, Holtby saw as evidence that he’s not where he needs to be mentally.
Confidence “always takes a hit if things aren’t going well. I don’t think it’s at a low by any means, I still believe in myself. But throughout the game you start — you’re not fielding many shots,” Holtby said. “A play like that comes and I don’t get over far enough on the angle. Overthink it, think he’s going back again with the pass and he beats me short side. It’s just those things that I need to have the confidence in myself that I can square up to him and I still have the ability to get back if he passes.”
Now comes a test of the coaching staf, which must find a way to help Holtby out of this slump. The problem is with the Capitals now having lost four straight and seven of nine, can they give him the playing time he needs to find his footing again.
“It’s like everybody, you help a guy fight through it, that’s what being a pro is about,” Coach Adam Oates said. “You have your moments where you struggle and it’s for the other guys to help him through it, the team to help him through it no matter who it is. We’re going through a lousy stretch right now where we’ve played some good hockey and we’re getting lousy results. Eleven shots on the road should be good enough. It’s not so we’ve got to figure out another way to play that much better.”