Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby handles the puck better than some skaters and likes to leave his crease. But as coach Dale Hunter has pointed out, it’s a risk-reward part of his game that sometimes comes up snake-eyes.
That’s exactly what happened Tuesday night, when the Holtby’s puck-handling blunder cost dearly in a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Just past the midway point of the first period, Holtby tried to fire the puck at waiting defenseman Jeff Schultz, but it went right to the Sabres‘ Brad Boyes, who had no trouble feeding Cody McCormick for the game’s first goal.
“Just trying to play to Schultzie on my blind side and just a little bit too much. I missed my spot, I guess,” Holtby said. “The play was there. It was the right play. I just didn’t execute.”
Any game with him includes “Adventures in Puck-Handling with Braden Holtby,” but for the first three games of this call-up, that extra skill was an advantage.
Even after this mistake, Hunter wasn’t willing to crush the 22-year-old rookie who has been stellar over the past week or so.
“Well, it happens. When you play the puck, that’s what happens. Every goaltender has did it. It’s one of those plays that he’d want back,” Hunter said. “But when you play a puck, he got us out a lot of times, too. So if he only does it once every so many games, it’s part of playing the puck.”
It’s also part of having that young of a goaltender in a pressure situation. He couldn’t corral the puck in his crease, leading to the Sabres‘ second goal, and he gave up a big rebound, leading to the third one.
That was the end of Holtby’s night, even though Mike Knuble admitted he and his teammates hung him out to dry a little bit. In came Michal Neuvirth (two goals on 13 shots) early in the second period, for a change of pace.
“They had chances. I wasn’t blaming the kid; I was just change momentum,” Hunter said. “It seemed to give us some jump. I don’t know why it does, but we do it as coaches because it does change the momentum.”
That’s a tough break for a goalie who was carrying the Caps for the balance of the past few games. But Holtby was not a defeated man.
“Eh, I mean, as far as confidence goes, they’re not pucks that I can’t stop. Those are ones that I know I can, I’m capable of,” Holtby said. “A couple of rebounds and a puck-handling error. That’s basically how it goes. As far as the game, I felt good. I felt my head was in it. Just a little erratic with my movement at times, and it’s something to work on.”