Washington Capitals v Boston Bruins

Braden Holtby makes case for top job while Caps’ goalies are injured

For much of this season, Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth has been the de facto starter in net because Semyon Varlamov has been dealing with a variety of chronic injuries. Despite Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s assertion that he is a “shaky” goalie, Neuvirth responded to the opportunity with some nice work (making him a steal in fantasy hockey leagues to boot).

Yet the Capitals emphasized the need for a deep reserve of quality netminders this season, as injuries to both Neuvirth and Varlamov forced the team to turn to the third goalie on their depth chart: Braden Holtby.

Instead of stumbling with another inexperienced starter, Holtby is carrying the torch from Neuvirth, as he earned three consecutive wins to stretch the Capitals’ winning streak to a 2010-11 season-high of seven games. In fact, Holtby has been doing so well lately – only one goal allowed in his last three appearances, one of which came in relief of an injured Neuvirth – that Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington wonders if the 21-year-old goalie might be pushing for more than just an interim hold on the No.1 job in DC.

In 11 NHL games so far this season, Holtby has allowed a scant 1.84 goals per game (best among any goalie in the league with at least as many appearances) while stopping 93.4 percent of shots fired his way (second only to Boston’s Tim Thomas).

But are 11 games enough to convince the Capitals’ decision-makers Holtby deserves the starting job through the final month of the regular season and into the playoffs?
For now, Holtby gets the nod over Neuvirth (who appears to healthy enough to return) and Varlamov (who has been out since February 20 with a knee injury).

“It’s a chance for him,” winger Mike Knuble said. “That’s the way he looks at it. It’s a chance. He gets a chance to play while the other two guys are down. As a young goalie, you’ve got to relish those moments. You want to take those opportunities when you can.”

Some people might get anxious regarding the idea of a team lacking a clean-cut answer for a starting goalie, but simply looking at last year’s injury-plagued Philadelphia Flyers net situation shows that quality depth can keep playoff runs alive. Besides, internal competition is a great way to spur productive results on the ice.

It’s too early to say that Holtby has a legitimate chance to steal one of the top jobs, but he gives the Capitals a valuable option in case Neuvirth (apparently healthy now) and/or Varlamov get banged up again. Having a third option as steady as Holtby could prove crucial as the Capitals hope to bring a more defensive-minded approach into another postseason.

Video: Ryan Suter doesn’t seem very happy with his coach


As you can see in the video, apparently Ryan Suter doesn’t like being paired with fellow lefty Jonas Brodin.

The Wild defenseman rather openly questioned the coaching staff’s decision-making today after practice.

“Yeah, I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said Suter. “I need to play with a right-handed defenseman. To give me more options. Neutral zone. Offensively. And even coming out of the D zone, it’s not fair to put a guy on his off side.”

Suter didn’t know if the pairings were just for practice or not. The Wild play tomorrow in Chicago. Minnesota has just one win in its last seven games.

Suter also had something to say about that.

“It does no good to pout and get pissed off at each other,” said Suter. “You’ve got to come together and dig out of this. Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to be a coach and a leader when things are going good.”

Yeo, by the way, has not been very happy with the Wild lately.  In fact, one could go so far as to say he’s been acting pretty “pissed off.”

For example, at today’s practice:

The Star Tribune has more on what went down today.

Yeo, you may recall, went a little “nuts” during a Wild practice last season.

Goalie nods: Sparks to make NHL debut for Leafs

Garett Sparks
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We already knew this yesterday, but in case you missed it, Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight against Edmonton.

Sparks, 22, has been excellent in the AHL this season, going 8-2-1 with a .938 save percentage. He spent most of last season in the ECHL, where he also posted good numbers.

Sparks is getting the nod tonight because James Reimer is hurt and Jonathan Bernier has been struggling badly.

“He’s got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him and it’s up to him to grab it,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, per NHL.com. “He’s got the [second-best] save percentage in the AHL and he’s winning all the time down there. Obviously we’re in need of some saves and we’ll have to play well in front of him for sure. But it’s an opportunity for him.”

Bernier, meanwhile, will have to sit and watch. The 27-year-old has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. His save percentage has fallen all the way to .888.

Anders Nilsson will be in net for the Oilers.


Cam Ward for the Hurricanes. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers, who will try not to rely on him so much.

Semyon Varlamov for the Avs. Thomas Greiss for the Isles.

— The Canucks aren’t saying if it’ll be Ryan Miller of Jacob Markstrom. For the Ducks, it’ll be John Gibson.

Vigneault: ‘After three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention’

Alain Vigneault
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Alain Vigneault has maintained for much of the season that the New York Rangers needed to play better.

The head coach said it a week ago, after the Blueshirts had beaten the Predators, 3-0, despite getting outshot, 31-19.

He’d said it a couple of weeks before that, after they’d beaten the Hurricanes in very similar fashion. (Final score: 3-0. Shots: 33-23 for Carolina.)

But as long as the Rangers kept winning, it was tough, according to Vigneault, to get the message across.

“Sometimes, the results might be going your way, so when you’re pointing out certain things, it might be a little bit more challenging for them to understand because the results are so positive,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.

“But after three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention.”

Derek Stepan‘s injury — he’ll miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs — has no doubt captured their attention as well. (Oscar Lindberg will center Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast tonight at home to Carolina.)

The Rangers also play Wednesday, in Brooklyn against the Islanders (on NBCSN).

Benn, Holtby and Galchenyuk are NHL’s three stars of the week

Cory Schneider, Alex Galchenyuk ,
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Stars winger Jamie Benn, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From NHL.com:

Benn shared the League lead in goals (4) and points (6) as the Stars (19-5-0, 38 points) won two of three games to continue their best start to a season in the franchise’s 48-year history.

Holtby posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.75 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings.

Galchenyuk tied for first in the NHL with four goals and added one assist to help the Canadiens (18-4-3, 39 points) earn five of a possible six points and reclaim first place in the League standings.

As much as the injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher have been frustrating for the Canadiens, those are short-term issues that should be forgotten soon enough. Galchenyuk’s play, in contrast, is reason for long-term optimism. The 21-year-old is trending towards becoming the elite No. 1 center the Habs have needed so badly. He’s not there yet, but when’s all said and done, he could turn out to be the best forward (or player, period) taken in the 2012 draft.