The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Goaltender Justin Peters earns win in first Capitals start

Justin Peters after making his game-winning save during the shootout (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).

His first start in Washington had advanced to the shootouts that always seemed fun, so Justin Peters wiped ice from the crease, stretched and readied for some one-on-one hockey. “I was just enjoying it,” Peters said later, after his shootout save boosted the Capitals to a 2-1 win over Florida, an exhalation after the tense Saturday night. “That’s the mindset and approach I try to take: one save at a time.”

Peters made only 20 saves on Panthers shots, because he faced only 21. The single goal resulted from an unfavorable bounce during a Florida power play, Brad Boyes poking it into the net because, well, sometimes you can’t cover everyone down a man.

“Those are the hardest games to play sometimes, when you’re not getting anything, and all of a sudden there’s a little spurt of stuff and you got to react,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought Petey was really good handling. I thought he looked a little nervous in the first. He wasn’t handling stuff really clean, but he made some timely saves when we needed. He made one in the third when it was 1-1. That’s what you want. You want your goaltender to give you timely saves. He’s played two games now and he’s been solid.”

Since signing this summer for two years, $1.9 million, brought aboard explicitly as Braden Holtby’s backup, Peters tasted action twice in one week, spelling Holtby after an early three goals against San Jose then starting the homestand’s finale before Washington’s western Canada trip. It was his first start since Dec. 27, 2013, and only his third game this calendar year.

But the Capitals expect big, in-a-pinch things from Peters this season, if only by virtue of the assistant now working with him. In his 15 seasons with Nashville, Trotz said, the backups always “closed the gap on the starter by the end of the year, every year.”

The reason? Goaltending coach Mitch Korn.

“Mitch keeps the goalies very prepared,” Trotz said. “If Justin goes in, he’s going to be very, very prepared. He gave us a chance to get a point against San Jose. He played well. He’s got a great work ethic and he’s a quality person. I know that gap always closes when he’s with Mitch Korn. I’ve seen it for 15 years. That guy always seems to close the gap on the No. 1 goaltender. That happened all the time.”

And besides, having a steady backup goaltender eases the burden off Holtby, who hasn’t started more than 48 games in a single season, but barring injury should do so in 2014-15.

“It’s huge,” Trotz said. “It is absolutely huge. You need, from a backup goaltender, if you can get 10-12 wins a year from that, that’s huge. When you don’t have that, it becomes a little daunting task. You’re riding one guy a little bit more and the trust factor goes down a bit. We have good trust in both our goalies. Which is great for team morale.”

Also great for morale? Finally scoring a shootout win after going 10-11 there last season and 0-2 to open this one. Peters had made three saves in overtime, none bigger than his close-range halt of Tomas Fleischmann. In the shootout, Jussi Jokinen tried to deke Peters and elevate the puck, but Peters stayed tall enough to deflect it away. With three goals from three Capitals skaters, Peters earned the night’s first star and his first victory in Washington.

“That’s nice run support,” Peters said.