Braden Holtby

Neuvirth to start against Wings, Boudreau waiting to decide playoff starter

Tonight’s Washington Capitals game will feature a change for the Southeast Division leaders—a change at goaltender. Scorching hot rookie Braden Holtby had been leading the Caps during their most recent stretch, but tonight will feature Michal Neuvirth between the pipes against Detroit. He’ll do his best to keep up with the unbelievable pace Holtby has set as of late.

Holtby started the 2nd period against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 7th and didn’t allow a goal in the following two periods, overtime, nor the shootout and has never looked back. He’s played in every game since, earning wins in all 5 games he’s appeared in recently. Last week, Holtby rode a 4-0 and 1.05 goals against becoming the NHL’s #1 star of the week.

Checking out the depth chart in Washington, the Capitals are sitting on an embarrassment of riches in net. Here’s a brief rundown of each goalie and their amazing statistics:

Michal Neuvirth: 22-10-4 with a .914 save percentage and 2.47 goals against avg
Semyon Varlamov: 10-8-4 with a .923 save percentage and 2.27 goals against avg
Braden Holtby: 9-2-2 with a .930 save percentage and 1.95 goals against avg

Neuvirth and Varlamov have been highly thought of prospects since they were drafted 34th and 23rd overall respectively. On the other hand, Holtby was a 4th round pick in the 2008 Draft. When the season started, he was with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL before earning a promotion to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. More stellar play and an injury opened the door for Holtby to show what he could do—and he’s run with the opportunity. Even though there are good, young goaltenders in the Capitals’ system, Holtby just continued to produce.

“[Other young goaltenders in organization] probably plays into everyone’s mind when they’re in the minors, if they’re going to get their shot. At the same time, I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re good enough to play at a level of the NHL, you’ll get that shot. You don’t see many guys that go through their career with NHL skills that don’t get an opportunity. I was just trying to prove myself in Hershey and make sure that if I do get an opportunity, I’d be ready to give it my best shot.”

Coaches have a tendency to play it safe, lay low, and promote the status quo when their team has won 9 straight in the middle of a playoff race. They’ve ridden the surge to the top of the Southeast Division and are only a point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. In this situation, Boudreau can either go with the guy who has playoff experience, the guy who has started most of the games this season, or the kid with the hot hand.

For his part, Boudreau isn’t ready to tip his hand quite yet.

“I don’t have to make that decision yet, so I’m really not doing it,” Boudreau said. “Every one of them we’ve put in has really excelled. Probably these next six or seven games will determine who’s going to be the starter in the playoffs for us, but right now we’ve got the three kids playing great and we give [Braden] Holtby a rest and see how somebody else can do the job.”

“I hate to be a historian on this, but in 1971 a kid got called up from the American League named Ken Dryden and played in the playoffs. I don’t think the pressure got to him and his career is history,” Boudreau said. “I see a lot of similarities in the Holtby, Dryden call ups, what their season’s been like and everything else.”

You have to love when a coach drops a reference from 40 years ago when thinking about the upside to a decision. But helping Boudreau out, both Cam Ward and Antti Niemi were rookie netminders who took over the starting jobs in the middle of the season—and both were able to help their teams lift the Stanley Cup when all was said and done.

The Capitals have drafted and groomed all three of these goaltenders to be successful in the NHL. Neuvirth has the best long-term record and Holtby has been unbelievable with his opportunity, but Semyon Varlamov had the best statistics before he was injured. Varlamov last played on February 20th, but he’s joined the team on their 6-game road trip signaling that he’s close to returning to the fold. It’ll be interesting to see what Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee decide to do with the thriving threesome down the stretch.

But the one thing we do know from Boudreau’s recent comments, is that this is, in fact, a three horse race.

The Caps say they’ve ‘matured’ and have ‘good poise’ now — we’ll see tonight

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 20:  Joel Ward #42, Alex Ovechkin #8, Nate Schmidt #88 and Brooks Orpik #44 of the Washington Capitals take a break on the bench as head coach Barry Trotz (L) and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe (R) oversee the action against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals — desperate for a win tonight in Pittsburgh — are vowing to stick to the plan, keep their composure, and not let a certain 21-year-old netminder get into their heads.

“I think that’s where this team has matured,” said coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years.”

In Game 3, the Caps had every reason to feel like the hockey gods were out to get them. They put 49 shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but were only able to beat him twice. They lost, 3-2, and now must win tonight in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 series hole.

In Game 4, the Capitals will have a major advantage, as their opponents will be without two of their top defensemen, Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (injured).

So not only is it a game the Caps need to win, it’s a game they’ll be expected to win.

That means pressure.

And pressure can lead to panic.

According to Trotz, the Caps used to be guilty of changing the plan when things didn’t go their way. They would play too much as individuals. They would play right into the opposition’s hands.

But not anymore.

 

 

“I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well,” said Trotz.

“If you do that, it will turn your way.”

No hearings scheduled for Boyle on Hickey hit, or Hickey on Drouin hit

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Doesn’t look like there’ll be supplemental discipline coming from Tampa Bay’s crazy 5-4 OT win over the Isles at Barclays last night.

Per the Times, both Brian Boyle and Thomas Hickey have avoided hearings for their big hits — Boyle’s on Hickey, Hickey’s on Jonathan Drouin.

An NHL spokesman has confirmed to PHT that no hearings have been scheduled.

Both hits went unpenalized, but were focal points of Tuesday’s game.

The impact of the Hickey hit forced Drouin from the contest for a lengthy period of time, though Drouin did return to set up Nikita Kucherov‘s game-tying goal with under a minute remaining in regulation.

Boyle’s hit on Hickey was followed by Boyle scoring the game-winning OT goal roughly 10 seconds later.

It also led to Isles head coach Jack Capuano venting his frustrations in his postgame presser.

“It’s a direct shot to the head,” Capuano said, per ESPN. “I mean, probably going to get suspended a game. That’s what I mean. The whole game, it shouldn’t come down to that. [Referee] is standing right there. I’ve watched it numerous times now. Those are the types of hits that we’re trying to eliminate from our game.

“It’s just too bad that it had to end that way. It’s frustrating because it’s right there. The play is right there. He’s looking right at it. The league can look at it if they want, but I’ve watched it four or five times, maybe more, and it’s just frustrating it had to end in that particular way with a head shot.”

Capuano didn’t have an update on Hickey following the contest.

Game 4 of this series goes on Friday at Barclays, so there could still be developments forthcoming. The league holds the right to schedule a hearing later (should it be deemed appropriate), and there will likely be an update on Hickey in the coming days.

Related: Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

Report: Ducks sign ’15 first-rounder Larsson

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Jacob Larsson poses after being selected 27th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Though it’s yet to be announced by the club, Swedish d-man Jacob Larsson has reportedly signed on with the Anaheim Ducks — the club that selected him in the first round (27th overall) of the 2015 draft.

Larsson, 19, is set to join Anaheim’s AHL club in San Diego, per Hockeysverige. The Gulls are currently in the midst of the Calder Cup playoffs, embroiled in a series against Ontario.

Larsson came into the ’15 draft fairly highly touted. He was pegged by Central Scouting as one of the top-10 international skaters available, and ended up the seventh defenseman off the board (after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Jakub Zboril, Thomas Chabot and Noah Juulsen.)

Per Hockeysverige, Larsson is still under contract to SHL club Frolunda for another year, and will be loaned back to the club for the ’16-17 campaign.

Ergo, this trip overseas appears to be so Larsson can get a taste of pro hockey in North America.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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There’s just one game scheduled for tonight, but it should be an exciting one and as you’ve likely guessed, you will be able to watch it via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Washington at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

Pittsburgh holds a 2-1 series lead, but this game in particular will be a big test for the Penguins as they’ll be without defensemen Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (upper body). The contest will air on NBCSN and if you want to stream it, you can do so by clicking here.

In the meantime, here are some relevant links:

If there’s an expansion draft, which goalie should Pittsburgh protect?

Penguins bring up Sestito and Oleksy

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4