- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 31, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Braden Holtby stood just outside his crease, the puck on his stick, when the crowd bellowed not once, but twice, for him to shoot it.

Holtby, on both occasions, declined.

“I actually had no idea they were yelling, ‘Shoot!’ I thought they just wanted me to get rid of it,” Holtby said. “I thought they didn’t want the goalie to touch the puck, or something like that, so I kind of panicked on a few.”

The Washington Capitals goaltender dazzled the people with his accurate shooting on Saturday night, finishing a team relay in the skills contest by sending all three of his saucer passes into the opposite net.

On Sunday, he stood by his leather, stopping eight of 10 shots in his All-Star Game appearance — a 4-3 loss for the Metropolitan Division to the Atlantic Division in the opening round of the new three-on-three tournament.

Joined by teammates Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as well as coach Barry Trotz, the Capitals’ four representatives all expressed an appreciation for the revamped event, which was won, 1-0, by the Pacific Division.

After a 29-goal slog of a game in Columbus last year, the NHL revamped the event prior to the season, showcasing the new overtime format while also implementing a style of play that’s more conducive to an exhibition.

Between a lack of hitting, solid goaltending and actual competition, the immediate response seemed positive.

“I think players liked it,” Backstrom said. “I mean, it’s pretty wide open and more scoring chances than maybe five-on-five, but I don’t know. … And, in the last five minutes, the intensity got a little higher, too, so it was good.”

Holtby allowed goals to Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who took advantage of a screen by New York Islanders center John Tavares, and Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr, who slipped the puck by Holtby on a breakaway.

Kuznetsov scored his team’s second goal, playing back-and-forth on a two-on-one with Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk before tapping the puck backhanded past Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo.

“I think every player wants to score in all-star, but when you not score, you have a lot of fun and you enjoy it for sure,” said Kuznetsov, who liked the experience so much he wanted to play another period. “But, I like it. It’s not a big deal if I do not score the goal.”

All three players were selected to play in the All-Star Game for the first time. Kuznetsov was tabbed on Wednesday to replace injured teammate Alex Ovechkin.

Trotz, who was an assistant coach for the game in Dallas in 2009, expressed hope that the three were able to take something out of the experience. To augment the experience, he had Backstrom and Kuznetsov play together on the team’s second unit.

“I think Backy, who wants no attention any time, it’s probably got to be pretty fulfilling for him to be a part of this,” Trotz said. “For Kuzy, I think it’s something that, you know, any young player comes into the league and wants to play in an All-Star Game and be a part of that, and I think it was a great experience for him.”

Backstrom and Kuznetsov were scheduled to fly home late Sunday night, with Holtby, Trotz and goaltending coach Mitch Korn set to take off early Monday morning. The three players will not have to join their teammates for practice, which is scheduled for mid-afternoon.

Trotz said that “probably” means that Philipp Grubauer will start on Tuesday against the Panthers, considering Holtby won’t have any work outside the morning skate. Washington will also be without Ovechkin, who, by league rules, isn’t permitted to play in the game because he skipped the all-star festivities.

The Capitals (35-8-4), who lead the league with 74 points, are scheduled to play 33 games in 69 days. Two games also have yet to be rescheduled after being postponed from Jan. 22 and Jan. 24 because of a snow storm.

It will be a difficult stretch for the Capitals — especially considering that those who weren’t honored by the league have only played in one game in the past 13 days.

“The guys from my team that are here, we kind of just want to get back there and get doing what we’ve been doing,” Holtby said. “This is a weekend that’s very good for the league, for fans, and we know that. That’s why we try to put on a good show, but our focus hasn’t wavered from being back in Washington, and it’ll be a pretty easy transition for us.”

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