Photo: NBCS Washington
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman wrote in his weekly “31 Thoughts” column on Sportsnet on Thursday that Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told him that he doesn’t think goaltender Braden Holtby’s contract situation affected his play to start the season when he went 1-1-2 with an .846 save percentage and a 4.27 goals-against average from October 2-14. In the last game of that stretch, he allowed three goals on three shots in the first period and was pulled from a 6-3 loss to the Western Conference-leading Colorado Avalanche.
“I don’t think so,” MacLellan said after Freidman asked if he thought that not having a contract beyond this season affected Holtby’s play. “We spoke at the beginning of the year, so we could communicate about [a] contract, about team situation, about [the salary] cap situation. It might be affecting him, but my interpretation is it is not. He goes through some periods where he gets a little off. He’s trying to improve his game and he’s trying certain things, maybe they don’t work as quick[ly] as possible. He always seems to be able to recover and we anticipate him playing at a high level soon.”
Since rookie netminder Ilya Samsonov got the nod in a high-profile game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 16, Holtby has started every game for the Capitals since and has gone 3-0-0 with only eight goals-allowed on 107 shots-against for a .925 save percentage.
Holtby, 30, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and with center Nicklas Backstrom, who leads the franchise with 649 career assists, also up for a new contract (can also become an unrestricted free agent) after the season in addition to Samsonov being projected as the franchise’s No. 1 goaltender someday, his future with the Capitals is unclear.
MacLellan also thought that there was a lack of hunger in the group last season, prompting some changes over the summer with the ones that lacked that effort walking out the door.
“Part of it, I think we labeled as fatigue, ran out of gas,” MacLellan said, referring to last season’s team. “And probably another part of it is the hunger. The hunger to go through it all again. It’s a long grind and I would not say that we had 20 guys with the will to win it the second time, and consequently we made some choices and some changes in our lineup.”
The Capitals face the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night (9 PM ET, NBC Sports Washington) at Rogers Place in the third game of a season-long five-game road-trip with Holtby expected to start in goal once again.
By Harrison Brown