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.

Devils sign d-man Michael Kapla

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The New Jersey Devils have signed UMass-Lowell defenseman Michael Kapla to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Kapla, 22, had three goals and 27 assists in 41 games this season. He’ll report to the Devils and likely burn the first year of his ELC by making his NHL debut sometime very soon.

The Devils host the Winning Jets tonight. They’re in Brooklyn Friday to play the Islanders.

Kapla spent four years in college. Per the Devils’ press release, he “most recently captained the River Hawks to the 2017 Hockey East Championship. He also received Hockey East All-Tournament Team honors and was named to the Hockey East Second All-Star Team.”

 

Report: Penn State sophomore Pedrie leaves school, signs with Rangers

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For the second straight day, the Rangers have landed an undrafted college free agent.

Vince Pedrie, a sophomore blueliner that just wrapped his sophomore campaign at Penn State, has reportedly agreed to terms with the Rangers on an entry-level deal, per the Collegian.

Citing a post from Pedrie’s Facebook account confirming the move, the Collegian reports the 23-year-old is the youngest Nittany Lion in program history to leave the team for the professional ranks.

It comes after Pedrie emerged as a “dominant offensive force” for the club last season, racking up 30 points in 39 games while helping Penn State qualify for its first NCAA championship appearance.

As mentioned above, this is the second intriguing prospect to join the Blueshirts in as many days. On Monday, University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri agreed to join the team after an impressive four-year career with the Gophers.

Hjalmarsson says ‘Hawks are ‘too comfortable’ after rough trip through Florida

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When most people take trips to Florida, it’s to get away from the stress and struggle of everyday life. But it’s safe to say that this edition of the Chicago Blackhawks won’t want to remember their visit to the Sunshine State.

The ‘Hawks dropped an embarrassing 7-0 decision to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night before blowing a 4-1 lead in last night’s game against the Bolts (they eventually lost 5-4 in OT).

They still have a comfortable lead atop the Central Division (eight points up on the struggling Wild), but they aren’t satisfied with their play.

“It’s getting close to the end here and we’re getting a little bit too comfortable maybe,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said, per the Chicago Tribune. “As soon as you do that, you’re going to lose games … At the same time I’m glad that we were playing like this before the playoffs so we can make some adjustments.

“Eighty-two games is a long season. It’s a mental grind more than anything. As soon as you’re not there 100 percent, it’s going to show in the scoring.”

As Hjalmarsson said, six games is still enough time to figure things out for Chicago. They just won’t have the luxury of facing easy opponents when they do try to sort out their struggles.

They’ll play the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday before returning home to play Columbus and Boston. They’ll then head back on the road to close out the season in Denver, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

PHT Morning Skate: This season’s top five breakout performers

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Jake Allen wore a special U.S. Navy tribute mask during last night’s game against the Coyotes. It’s really a gorgeous mask. “The blue and yellow complements our colors well, and it’s a great tribute to the Blue Angel pilots who have the honor of flying and performing across the country.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–With every NHL season, there are surprises and disappointments. Rather than focus on the negatives, The Hockey News breaks down the top five breakout seasons in 2016-17. At the top of the list is Panthers forward Jonathan Marchesault, who is shockingly closing in on a 30-goal season. Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson and Boston’s David Pastrnak have also made names for themselves. (The Hockey News)

–It’s no secret that NHLers are forced to travel a lot, but each team makes the most of their road trips in different ways. For example, Kevin Shattenkirk and the Capitals enjoy fine dining when they’re away from home.  “It’s so easy to go to the top names or the ones that you hear of all the time, but when you go to a lot of these cities, the food scenes everywhere now are really starting to improve. A lot of my friends naturally are foodies. They bring me to some of their places. Even just a simple Google, most of the times, the first two things that come up are Yelp or TripAdvisor, and I usually go a couple down and look at a local newspaper, if they have the best spots to eat in 2017. I like to focus on those.” (Washington Post)

–The Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves down 4-1 in lasts night’s game against Chicago, but they were able to battle back and win in a thrilling overtime period. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Tonight will mark the first time that Jordie and Jamie Benn play against each other since the trade that saw the older Benn head to Montreal. The Canadiens took the opportunity to ask their Benn some questions about what it was like growing up with his brother. Here’s a sample question: “Of the two of you, which one is Peyton and who is Eli?” (NHL.com/Canadiens)

–This year’s rookie class with Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner and Matt Murray is one of the best in recent memory, but which other freshmen classes stand out? BarDown takes a look at the top five rookie classes since 2000. (BarDown)

–Capitals forward Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky had some fun during picture day. The two players showed up to the rink with some pretty poofy hair. There’s no point in me trying to explain it when you can see the pictures for yourself. (NHL.com)