Imagine returning from quarantine to practice or play a game against Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and having to face his trademark blast from the left circle. That’s what’s lays ahead for the Capitals’ Braden Holtby and the Penguins’ Matt Murray. The two discussed Ovechkin’s shot during a recent NHL Zoom call.
“It doesn’t go where it’s supposed to,” Holtby said. “It’s like a pitcher in baseball throws a 95-mile-an-hour knuckleball. It’s just … it moves like crazy.”
Now imagine coming back to a game to face Ovechkin. The Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Matt Murray gave his take on facing Ovechkin’s one timer from the left circle.
“Just kind of like [Holtby] said, it’s like a knuckleball, honestly,” Murray said. “It’s like … probably because of that huge toe curve he uses. But sometimes it, like, drops a foot or a foot and a half. Sometimes it wobbles midair. Sometimes it starts off going high glove side and dips and curves low blocker. Like, it’s crazy the movement that he has on his shot and the speed behind it too.”
How do you stay ready for that under these circumstances? Well, you don’t. You can’t.
Murray and Holtby have been taking it easy since the league officially suspended play on March 12, but the two fully realize the return to play will be a challenge.
“I’m not doing much right now, to be honest,” Holtby said. “In the summer, I take a few months off completely, anyways, just to try and get my mind completely away from everything. So, it’s going to be tough once there’s kind of a game plan.”
Murray has been at his lake house north of Toronto, staying busy with his two dogs. He said one of the reasons he’s there is the home has a gym.
“The same thing [as Holtby], though,” Murray said. “Not doing too much. Just maybe throwing a tennis ball off the wall here or there. Just trying to keep the body in shape and making sure that my body’s ready for when we start back up again.”
Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals and Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins — the past three goalies to win the Stanley Cup — spoke on a video call arranged by the NHL. (Video here).
The NHL’s Return to Play Committee met once again on Wednesday and sources have told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that the league and NHLPA are working on a 24-team “conference-based” Stanley Cup Playoff format.
The top-four teams in each conference in terms of points percentage (Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers in the East and St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars in the West) would get byes through the play-in round but participate in some kind of three-game exhibition slate to get some action under their belts.
The play-in series would be a best-of-five. After that, the Stanley Cup Playoffs would be a best-of-seven as usual the rest of the way.
The NHL Players Association and teams could approve of this format within the next few days, Freidman said.
By Jon Sorensen