- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby’s second season as the Capitals’ bonafide franchise goaltender, the 27-year-old rewarded those who trusted him with a record-setting 48-win season and a Vezina trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender.

Holtby, who finished with a .922 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average last year, was a critical component of Washington’s 120-point season, offering the Capitals strong goaltending virtually every night.

With so much positives surrounding Holtby’s game, the goaltender comes into the 2016-17 season with one simple challenge: Do it again. 

“Consistency is always the No. 1 goal, especially on a team like we have,” Holtby said. “You’re not going to have to steal games all over the place. The consistency is that one or two saves, a period here or there. It takes consistency mentally.”

That pursuit of consistency is drilled into Holtby’s approach to the ice by Mitch Korn, the Capitals’ goaltending coach. Korn, who has worked with goaltendinggreats like Dominik Hasek, Grant Fuhr, Tomas Vokoun and current Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.

Korn, the goaltending guru, and Holtby, the earnest student hungry to learn, have been a perfect match — they even share the same Sept. 16 birthday — with the teacher testing his protege daily with a menu of unique drills.

“He pushes you forward,” Holtby said of Korn. “I think he takes pride in that. I think he has the same goal in mind as me, just every year you want to be better than you were at the start. You’re just trying to get better every day. He has a very good game plan every day in order to accomplish that.”

Holtby underwent an unusual preseason, sitting on the bench as a member of Team Canada during the World Cup of Hockey, the first such tournament since 2004. Holtby didn’t play in a single game, as Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price manned the pipes for the majority of the tournament and Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford suited up as the backup. Holtby said he didn’t spend much time working with Price, but he did say he worked with Crawford, who is the winner of two Stanley Cups.

“We don’t get to see [Crawford’s game] very often with him being out west, but you really have to appreciate his game, how hard he works, how he’s got here,” Holtby said. “He and I kind of have similar paths, and it was kind of our first time playing on Team Canada together. I learned a lot from him. He does things extremely well, and hopefully I can incorporate a couple of those things into my game.”

If it was up to Holtby, he’d play every single game of the season. Even though Holtby said Philipp Grubauer was a big part of the Capitals’ success last season, Holtby is hungry to play as many times as he possibly can.

“I don’t think there is such thing as ‘saving for the playoffs,’” Holtby said. “The more experience you can get in the year, the more reps you can get, it makes the reps easier when they come in the future.”

The Capitals open their season Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the reigning champion and the Capitals’ foe that knocked them out of playoff contention last season. Holtby and his teammates will watch as the Penguins raise their franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup banner.

But the Capitals return virtually the same team as last season, though they gained a stronger third line center in Lars Eller. That gives Holtby the confidence that his and his team’s day to raise a banner is very much attainable this season.

“I’m excited to get back here because of the group we have,” Holtby said. “We know we can accomplish more.”

 


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