Wednesday Night Hockey: Braden Holtby back on track

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Like most players, Braden Holtby has gone through some ups and downs this season. Nobody in Washington seemed to be panicking while their star netminder was slumping and there’s a simple reason for that. Last year, Holtby lost his starting job to Philipp Grubauer for a while. In the end, not only was he able to get his job back, he also helped lead his team to their first Stanley Cup title.

The biggest difference between this year and last, is that Grubauer is no longer around to shoulder the load. No disrespect to Pheonix Copley, but he’s never shown the ability to keep his head above water for long stretches at the NHL level. He’s a respectable backup goalie. That’s it. So Holtby can’t afford to go into a prolonged slump.

So even though there didn’t appear to be any panic when Holtby struggled, there should be some sense of relief now that he’s  back on track. The 29-year-old has rattled off three victories in a row over the Senators, Islanders and Rangers. During those three contests, he’s allowed just five goals.

He’s also given up two goals or fewer in six of his last eight games.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Capitals aren’t in any danger of missing the postseason, but they’re currently in a tough battle for the Metropolitan Division crown. Last season, they battled the Pittsburgh Penguins for the division. This year, they’re in the same boat but with the Islanders instead of the Pens. As of right now, the Isles and Caps are tied at the top of the Metro with 83 points in 66 games. They’ve both won 34 games in regulation/overtime.

Robin Lehner‘s been terrific for the Isles, so Holtby will have to continue to perform at a high level if the Capitals are going to keep pace with New York.

“We had a ton of work to do then,” Holtby said of his team’s division battle with the Pens last year. “It’s no different this year. We’re still not close to where we want to be to give ourselves a chance to win again…Like last year we have to use every single game and every moment to improve ourselves. Our guys are looking forward to that challenge.”

The Capitals have to take care of business against a hot Flyers team tonight, but they’ll get one more crack on at the Islanders on the final day of the regular season. That might be the difference between being the top seed in the division and being second.

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.