- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals patiently turned away the Ottawa Senators.

Holtby made 26 saves in Washington’s 2-1 victory Wednesday night, lowering his NHL-best goals-against average to 1.83 and improving to 20-4-1.

“He’s an eraser,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Good goaltending erases a lot of mistakes. I think his mental toughness is off the charts. I think everybody would agree in our room that he’s the most valuable player for us so far this year.”

Holtby has allowed three goals in his last three games, making 35 saves in a 2-1 victory at Tampa Bay on Saturday night and 44 in a 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night.

He credited his team’s steady defense for making his job easier. The Capitals stayed away from turnovers in their zone or mistakes that gave Ottawa chances off scoring rushes.

“They are a pretty good offensive team, and we did a good job,” Holtby said. “Those guys have some pretty good shooters over there, so if you turn it over at the wrong times, they’re going to make you pay.”

Holtby has helped the Capitals earn points in the standings in his last 13 games. That’s the longest in the NHL this season.

The Capitals improved to 22-6-2 (46 points). That’s the franchise’s best start ever in terms of wins and points.

Eastern Conference-leading Washington has won three consecutive games and four of its last five. Ottawa has dropped three of its last four games.

Holtby battled Ottawa goalie Andrew Hammond, who made 23 saves in his first game since Nov. 12 and did not look rusty.

Hammond gave up a first-period goal to Michael Latta and John Carlson’s second-period score but nothing else.

“I felt like I settled into it pretty quick,” Hammond said. “It was one of those games where it was pretty easy to get into it early on.”

Latta opened the scoring in the first period and helped set up John Carlson’s second-period goal.

Washington’s Tom Wilson was hit with a late match penalty, and Bobby Ryan scored for Ottawa on the power play with 4:14 left. Holtby made some key stops during that stretch.

The Capitals pressured Ottawa throughout the first period, taking the lead when Latta broke in alone on Hammond and flipped a high shot past him with 5:54 left.

Dmitry Orlov sprung Latta with a pass from near center ice.

Carlson scored at 5:43 of the second off Justin Williams’ cross-ice feed. Latta started the play in the neutral zone.

That shaky first period cost Ottawa as it never caught up after Washington took the early lead.

“A bit of a slow start,” Ottawa coach Dave Cameron said. “We were much better in the second and third period but not good enough. Pretty good hockey club over there and they took it to us (early).”

NOTES: The Capitals will host two World Cup of Hockey exhibition games next year. The United States will play Finland on Sept. 13, 2016, and Sweden will face Team Europe the following day. … Latta had only three points (one goal and two assists) in 18 games previous games this season. … Ottawa has lost five of its last six road games.

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