- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2014

Braden Holtby had a relatively easy workload Saturday at New Jersey, turning away just 21 shots as the Washington Capitals cruised to a four-goal victory.

A similar performance on Monday, when the Capitals were set to play their first of two games in as many days, would have been a welcome sight for coach Barry Trotz.

“I was actually hoping he would have a 21-save night so it would make my decision [for the next game] a lot easier,” Trotz said.

Instead, Holtby turned away 38 shots, matching a season-high, as Washington held on for a 2-1 victory over Ottawa.

Jay Beagle and Nicklas Backstrom each scored goals for the Capitals (17-10-6), who have now won their last three games and seven of their last nine.

They also snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Senators (14-14-6), who hadn’t fallen to their capital counterparts in over three years.

Holtby, who previously had 38 saves in a loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 1, stopped 14 shots in the first period, nine in the second and 15 in the third. His lone slip-up happened 15:56 into the second period.

Ottawa right wing Erik Condra poked the puck away from Capitals defenseman Mike Green just shy of his own blue line, then turned around and was left one-on-one with the goaltender. His wrister from 24 feet darted between Holtby’s legs, tying the score at 1 not even two minutes after the Capitals had taken the lead.

Green, who had an assist on each of the Capitals’ goals, atoned for the mistake. After picking up a secondary assist on Beagle’s goal 13:59 into the period, when Beagle scooped up Evgeny Kuznetsov’s saucer pass from the blue line and tucked it inside Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson’s left skate, he orchestrated Backstrom’s goal 35 seconds before the intermission, allowing the center to blast a power-point snapper from the right circle.

Backstrom’s goal, aided by a screen down low from left wing Marcus Johansson, snapped an 0-for-9 streak on the power play. The Capitals went 0-for-3 with the advantage in games at Columbus and on the road against the Devils, then opened the game by going 0-for-3 in the first period — including a whiff on 1:06 of 5-on-3.

“You’re gonna have those stretches during the season,” said Backstrom, whose goal was his 11th of the season. “We also have been good. We’ve been almost 28 percent. That’s almost too good, I think. We’re at around 25 percent, so that’s more normal. … We want to improve and we want to get better, but sometimes, you’re going to have those stretches where things don’t go your way.”

Holtby, making his 10th consecutive start, was tested early. He turned back a 60-foot slap shot from Ottawa defenseman Cody Ceci just 14 seconds into the game, then dramatically snagged a one-timer from left wing Clarke MacArthur while on the penalty kill at 4:32.

He also turned away a laser by defenseman Patrick Wiercioch midway through the second period, stopped the rebound attempt, and stopped another attempt by a rushing Ceci in the slot two minutes later.

And, with Anderson off the ice in the final two minutes, he turned away two Ottawa shots, with the Capitals blocking three others.

“I was reading the play pretty well, but at the same time, I thought my rebound control was the worst I’ve had this season,” said Holtby, who improved to 7-1-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in December. “It’s kind of hard to judge, but there definitely were spots that I felt comfortable.”

The one-goal victory was the Capitals’ second of the month, having also won, 2-1, at Carolina on Dec. 4. Yet it marked the first time since Jan. 15, 2012 that the Capitals won a game 2-1 at home, when they also beat the Hurricanes.

“It’s something that we really struggled with, I feel like, the past couple years — closing out games where we had a one-goal lead,” Beagle said. “We seem to be doing it now. We’ve just got to keep it going.”

The final test before the three-day Christmas break is Tuesday in New York, where the Capitals will face the Rangers — a division opponent they’ve consistently been matched with in the standings.

Logic would dictate that Holtby would finally get the rest he hasn’t had since Nov. 15 — the last time he sat out an entire game.

If Trotz’s internal debate continues, Holtby doesn’t want to be asked.

“That’s not even a question,” Holtby said. “I’d play every game if I could.”

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