The best news for the Washington Capitals, ahead of Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, is that their goaltender was so underwhelming in their Game 2 loss that he was on the bench after two periods.
Braden Holtby is 11-2-0 with two shutouts and .925 save percentage in his next game after being pulled. So if the Vezina winning netminder is the difference between the Capitals climbing back into this series or staring into the abyss of an 0-3 hole, his bad night could lead to good things.
“I don’t look too much at patterns,” said Holtby on Monday.
“I try to prepare the same way every game. Obviously, when a game doesn’t go your way, there are a few areas of your game that you’re focused on. You come to the rink, you’re a little more ready to prepare. That kind of competitive instinct.”
But there’s no denying what getting pulled means for a goalie. It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing.
“It’s probably the worst part about sports, said Holtby, when asked about it last December.
Relevant after the Carey Price "look," Braden Holtby was asked about what goes through an elite goalie's mind when he gets pulled: pic.twitter.com/lZaSlVwoSG
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) December 17, 2016
That embarrassment is amplified when you’re an elite goaltender, and amplified larger when it happens in a second-round playoff game.
“He hasn’t had his series, to this point,” said coach Barry Trotz of Holtby, who has given up six goals on 35 shots in two games. “But his body of work has been excellent, his mental toughness is excellent. He has the ability to park things. He’ll park it and I think he’ll be the difference in this series.”
Captain Alex Ovechkin echoed that confidence. “We trust him. We know if the big moment is coming, he’s going to be the best. He’s the best. We’ll support him no matter what happens. He’s the best goalie in the league. He’ll show it tonight,” he said.
Of course, the Capitals could give him a boost by turning their incredible starts into something more than a boost to Marc-Andre Fleury’s save percentage.
They’ve outshot the Penguins 22-9 in the first period during these two games, and controlled play.
But the Penguins scored first in both games, and had the Capitals “chasing the game” until they were defeated.
Trotz said the key is to score by any means necessary.
“We gotta get a dirty goal. If we’re not getting it off the rush, we gotta get a dirty goal. When you’re chasing the game, you’re pushing and pushing and pushing, and they’re a great counter team,” he said.
In Holtby, and in the Capitals’ ability to control play early and get chances on Fleury, Washington carries some hope into Game 3.
“Sometimes you dominate and you lose the games,” said Ovechkin. “If we’re going to play like we played in the first period last game, it’s going to be on our side and we’re going to win.”
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