Braden Holtby Stops 18 Shots As Washington Capitals Shutout Canadiens

Steve O Speak

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby idolized Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy in his youth. Roy, who spent a little over 10 seasons in Montreal, led the Canadians to a Stanley Cup title in 1986 and then again in 1993.

Holtby, who is openly competing with Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov for a chance to become the Capitals post-season starter, was not yet alive to witness Roy make history when he became the second Canadians rookie to lead Montreal to a Stanley Cup title in 86.

The 20-year-old Roy joined another Hall of Fame Canadians goalie, Ken Dryden in becoming the first rookie since Dryden to win the Stanley Cup in 1986.

Dryden the first rookie goalie in NHL history to win a cup title, was 23-years-old when he accomplished the feat. After playing in only six regular season games and then leading Montreal to the Cup in 1971, Dryden came back the following season and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1972.

While Roy did not win rookie of the year honors, (Gary Suter, Calgary Flames) both he and Dryden won the Conn Smyth trophy as the MVP of the playoffs in their first Stanley Cup appearances.

It remains to be seen if the Capitals 21-year-old net minder will have a chance to match his idol but one thing is for sure he is not making the decision on whom to start in the post season any easier for Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau.

The 6’2″, 205-pouond Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, made 18 saves for the second NHL shutout of his young career in beating the Canadians 2-0 last evening in Montreal.

Holtby, whose last win before being assigned back to Hershey on March-19, was a 24 save performance against these same Canadians just 11 days ago, seemed focused and unfazed by the last 24 hours.

Holtby received the call on Friday just prior to his scheduled start for the Hershey Bears that he was needed back by the Caps and would play against the Habs. Hershey, in a heated playoff race, was getting ready to play the Adirondack Phantoms in Glenn Falls New York.

Holtby was called back to the big club because Semyon Varlamov was forced to start Friday’s game against the Senators after scheduled starter Michael Neuvirth became ill.

Varlamov was scheduled to return from his knee-injury and start against the Habs last night but after playing Friday evening and coming off injury, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau did not want to take any chances, summoning Holtby.

Holtby made the trip in style. The Capitals summoned a limousine to fetch Holtby and bring him the three and half hours to Montreal from Glens Falls.

The Capitals were coming off a stale performance in Canada’s capital on Friday evening. The Ottawa Senators shutout Washington 2-0, marking the tenth time this season the Caps had been whitewashed.

The Canadians entered tonight’s contest on a shutout streak of their own. Montreal had not scored a goal in 126-minutes and five-seconds of play. Their last goal came a week ago when they scored eight in beating the Minnesota Wild 8-1.

Since then the Habs have been blanked by Buffalo 2-0 and embarrassed by their division rivals, the Boston Bruins 7-0 on Thursday.

The Caps scoreless streak ended first and very quickly into last evenings contest. Marco Sturm, who has missed more than a few empty nets since being acquired off waivers by the Capitals back on Feb-26, scored just 1:24 into the contest.

The Capitals Nicklas Backstrom picked up a loose puck along the boards, skated down the right wing, and fired a shot on Habs starting goalie, Carey Price. The puck bounced up and to Sturm who knocked it past the sprawling Price for his first as Capital and his fifth of the season.

“It’s always really important, especially here in this rink, to get the early lead and get the crowd a little bit quiet,” Sturm told reporters following the game.

That would be all Braden Holtby needed as Washington played a choking style of defense limiting the Canadians to just three first period shots and 18 for the game. Holtby never gave Montreal a second chance at any shot he faced.

Holtby said after the contest, “That’s all the credit to the way we came out and we were prepared, and luckily they didn’t put much of a push because we were sticking to our game plan very well,”

The Capitals would add a little breathing room 6:40 into the final stanza as Alexander Semin converted a perfect pass from Nicklas Backstrom beating Price. Sloppy play at the Habs blue line led to an offensive zone turnover giving Backstrom and Semin a two-on-none break.

Backstrom who assisted on Strums goal notched his fourth point since returning from a broken finger on March-18.

Even after Semin’s goal there were a few tense moments late as the Capitals Marcus Johansson was called delay of game with just 3:19 remaining, Johansson flipped a clearing attempt over the glass form inside the defensive zone forcing Washington to kill off a Canadians power play.

Habs coach Jacques Martin pulled Carey Price for much of the power play but Montreal was unable to convert. In fact, the Canadians were twice called for icing with the extra man. The Habs tried to dump in missed empty net clearing attempts by the Caps.

Washington took three out of four from their first round playoff nemesis from last season. In doing so, the caps killed all 16 Habs power plays in the four games this season.

Montreal has now been held scoreless for a little over 186-minutes and have not suffered three consecutive shutouts since Oct. 23-29, 1949. The Habs host the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night and have not been shutout in four consecutive games since Feb. 14-21, 1928.

The Capitals concluded their six game road trip with a 4-2 record and come back to DC to play the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. Washington continues to trail the Flyers by two points for the overall lead in the eastern conference.

The Caps improved to 22-14-3 on the road this season and have just two games left away from the big phone booth this season.

Washington played in its third straight game without team captain and leading scorer Alex Ovechkin. The caps are 2-1 without the Great 8 this season. Ovechkin has now missed 17 games in his six seasons with the capitals.

During the first four seasons of Ovechkin’s career, the Caps were 1-3-0 with Ovie, over the last two seasons, Washington is 9-3-1 without the Russian sniper. According to Bruce Boudreau, the Caps could have both Ovechkin and Jason Arnott back for a full practice on Monday.

No one knows what the future of Washington’s post season goaltending situation holds but if Braden Holtby continues to play this way, can he be denied a shot to lead the Caps into the playoffs?.

Last night’s win was not just Holtby, the Caps defense should actually be given most of the credit. Making life relatively easy on Holtby, Washington kept the Canadians outside the circles all night and kept the area in front of the young net minder clean.

Having said that, the Caps look more confident on the ice playing in front of Holtby. Watching them play you get the sense that one goal leads are going to stand for a Caps win.

Fair or unfair, when Neuvy and Varly are between the pipes you hold your breath for the one bad goal you know is going to happen.

Sure Neuvirth and Varlamov have played well this season but neither can seem to stay healthy for long stretches and is it just me or do the Caps play with a little more confidence in front of Holtby?

Holtby is now 10-2-2-for Washington this season with 1.79 goals against and a “sick” .934 save percentage. He has won his last six appearances and eight of his last nine. His lone loss over that span came in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers back on Jan-24.

If Holtby is not given serious consideration for the Caps post-season job then I am not sure what more a goalie can do to win the job.

Holtby, in my mind is earning the right to see if he can do for Washington, what Ken Dryden and his idol Patrick Roy did for Montreal, what Cam Ward did for Carolina in 06 and last year what Antti Niemi did for Chicago, win a Stanley Cup as a rookie goaltender.

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