- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2020

Todd Reirden has plenty to consider as the NHL season inches closer to its return, and too much is still up in the air: how long training camp will be, what the structure will look like, how many players will be selected for the playoff roster. But the Washington Capitals coach made at least one thing clear on Monday: When they return, Braden Holtby will be the man between the pipes.

Reirden said the No. 1 goaltender role is “Braden Holtby’s job to lose” when the Capitals return to practice and head into the postseason.

“I felt confident with where things were going right before the pause in terms of how his game was coming around and I think he’ll get the first crack at it,” Reirden said. “Obviously, we’re going to be all evaluating as a team and ultimately the thing we have to do is put our team in the best situation where we can have success.”

It was unlikely from the start that rookie Ilya Samsonov would overtake Holtby as the regular No. 1. But with Holtby’s performance falling off at times during 2019-20, it was fair to wonder if the Capitals might employ a timeshare at the position.

The Capitals faced a similar conundrum two years ago, when coach Barry Trotz tapped Philipp Grubauer over Holtby in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Holtby had slumped for parts of the final three months of the regular season, but more importantly to the equation, Grubauer was much more experienced than Samsonov currently is.

The Capitals lost their first two playoff games with Grubauer in net, Trotz switched back to Holtby and the rest is history.

“I think that, obviously, Braden Holtby’s body of work in playoff games speaks for itself and how he definitely helped our team to win our first ever Stanley Cup and was a huge, huge part of that,” Reirden said.

The second-year coach said Samsonov will still get reps, not only in practice but in a potential exhibition game if the NHL finalizes some form of “preseason” before the 24-team revised playoff format kicks in. There’s a new wrinkle in this year’s format for the Capitals to consider: They open up with three round-robin games that only affect seeding, so they could decide to mix in Samsonov for a game and a loss wouldn’t put them in any danger of elimination.

Holtby was one of four Capitals players to return to the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex last week for small-group workouts when the team officially moved into Phase 2 of returning. Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Lars Eller joined him. Reirden expects more players to begin using the team’s practice ice over the next two weeks once they travel back to the Washington area from wherever they’ve been quarantining.

Further, goaltending coach Scott Murray and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will join that quartet of players on the ice this Thursday — the first day they’ll be allowed to do so under the NHL’s current regulations. Forsythe’s chief responsibilities are the centers and the power-play unit.

Teams will be allowed to open training camps July 10. The length has yet to be negotiated by the league and the players’ union, but it’s expected to be roughly three weeks, leading to the actual games beginning in late July or early August.

Emphasizing that no one in the NHL has been through anything quite like the pandemic-enforced suspension of the season, Reirden said he’ll rely on his preparation and adjust his plans as needed.

“I’m still hoping to hear more details here as we get going towards Phase 3 and how training camp’s going to look,” Reirden said. “We’ve got a number of different things that we’re prepared for and how those can go, whether it be the exact number of players or amount of time we can be on the ice or how that’s going to go.”

Reirden shared that he recently got to chat and swap ideas with Redskins coach Ron Rivera, Wizards coach Scott Brooks and Mystics coach Mike Thibault as part of a coaching panel recorded for NBC Sports Washington that’s set to air in the near future.

“It was the talk before and after (recording) that were really, for me, informative and interesting,” Reirden said. “We were allowed to ask each other questions. I thought it was a great think tank in terms of getting all the D.C. coaches outside of Davey (Martinez) on that call and I think that that was something I really enjoyed. It’s something I’ve done a lot of this summer, is not just with hockey people or different sports people, but even business people I’ve been on calls and Zoom calls and trying to continue to learn how to grow as a leader and take advantage of this time away to reset and get myself ready to go.”

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