It’s been nearly a week since the blade of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson’s stick inadvertently slipped through a hole in Braden Holtby’s mask, injuring the Washington Capitals goaltender’s left eye. Holtby has been on the ice for practices and has even dressed for games, but he has yet to actually play in net since the incident.
“It just didn’t clear up as quick as we were expecting it to,” Holtby said. “It’s a decision where you don’t really know what it’s going to be like in a game. It was a bit of doubt about what it was going to be like. I obviously wasn’t close enough to 100 percent where I felt comfortable that it was for the betterment of the team.”
As for Friday’s game against the New York Islanders, Holtby said, “you’ll find out tomorrow” about his availability. If he doesn’t start, the Capitals are expected to recall another goaltender rather than have Holtby serve as the backup again to avoid a situation like Tuesday’s in Nashville. Washington had expected Holtby to play that game but learned just hours before that he wouldn’t be able to, which didn’t give the team enough time to bring up another goaltender. Pheonix Copley started for a second game in as many nights, and even as the score got ugly in a 7-2 loss, Copley had to stay in net because Holtby was unavailable. More problematic is that, had Copley gotten hurt, Holtby would’ve been forced into the game when he wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
“It’s been a situation where you don’t know exactly how things are going to react until the last minute,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “For us in this situation, we’ll see how he is in the morning. … We’ll make a decision tomorrow after morning skate and maybe not even until after that. We’ve got to continue to kind of play this one out, not minute-to-minute but fairly close to it being a game-time decision.”
Reirden said the team is confident Holtby’s eye will heal on its own and it’s just a matter of time. “It has not been portrayed to me at all that there would be a long-term issue with that,” Reirden said.
If the Capitals recall another goaltender, it will probably be top prospect Ilya Samsonov, who’s coming off back-to-back shutouts for Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa. Samsonov was recalled earlier this season when Holtby was hurt, but the Capitals could also choose to bring up prospect Vitek Vanecek, who has more AHL experience but, like Samsonov, has never started in an NHL game. In either case, Copley would get the start, and while his past two outings have been rough, he’s impressed during the season as a whole with a 10-4-3 record.
Holtby said his vision is “progressing” and “feeling a lot better.” But if this lingers into next week, it could cause him to miss the All-Star Game, to which he was named this month for a fourth straight year.
“We use precaution first 100 percent for all of our players but in particular our No. 1 goalie," Reirden said. “It’s too soon for me to comment on [the All-Star Game] now, but that potentially could be an issue.”