Braden Holtby wasn’t worried about getting a contract extension done with the Washington Capitals. He trusted his agent to take care of the business side.
“My job is the hockey side of it. They’re two totally different things,” Holtby said after signing a two-year, $3.7 million deal. “My job is to focus on the games and make sure I’m performing well, no matter what the contract numbers are, whatnot. That’s what my agent looks after, and I look after the hockey.”
The Caps have trusted Holtby to be their No. 1 goaltender, beginning with last year’s playoff run and continuing this season. He has been better than his 5-6 record, 3.37 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.
“He’s found his game again,” general manager George McPhee said. “He was off his game earlier in the year, and that may happen going from the American League [to] here and trying to adjust to a better league. So we like the way he’s playing and what he can bring to the club obviously in the next few years.”
Holtby emerged as the goaltender of the present while leading the Caps to within a victory of the Eastern Conference final last spring, going 7-7 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Coach Adam Oates cited that performance as the reason he didn’t pull Holtby Feb. 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he hasn’t been afraid to lean on the 23-year-old.
“You know, coaching him in Hershey and [watching] him last year, I really like the fire that he has,” Oates said. “It looks he wants to play every single night, it looks like he wants that responsibility.”
Holtby will make his seventh straight Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes. Oates said backup Michal Neuvirth could play Wednesday at the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Obviously he’s got to get some games,” Oates said. “I’ve just riding Holts because he looks sharp. He doesn’t look tired.”
It remains to be seen what Holtby’s contract, which pays the goaltender $1.7 million in 2013-14 and $2 million in 2014-15, means for Neuvirth, who’s set to be a restricted free agent this summer.
“It is hard; as you know, I don’t talk about other players and their contracts or anything else, but it doesn’t change opinions or anything,” McPhee said. “What we did for Braden is exactly the same thing we did for Michal a couple years ago.”
Neuvirth, 24, is in the final season of a two-year, $2.3 million contract. He hasn’t played in a game since Feb. 7 at the Penguins, when he was pulled after giving up two goals on 11 shots.
It’s been Holtby’s net since. In six consecutive starts, he’s 4-2 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
“The bounces seem to be going more our way the last little while,” Holtby said. “But consistently I think it hasn’t changed a whole bunch, it’s just the way hockey’s gone, and it’s going better now.”
Holtby said getting the contract extension signed lessens the amount of distractions on him as he goes about his business.
“It’s good; it takes the pressure off,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “I know, say with Holts as a goalie, when it is contract year, you might be a little bit nervous. Now that he’s taken care of, he can relax. He’s been playing some great hockey as of late. We expect him to continue that.”