Holtby has been the difference for Caps this season

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The Washington Capitals didn’t sit on their hands after missing the playoffs in 2014. They replaced both their general manager and head coach with Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz respectively. They splurged on free agent defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. One thing they didn’t do though was address their goaltending, which was a point of significant uncertainty based on how the 2013-14 campaign played out.

All the same, the Washington Capitals decided to stick with Braden Holtby and only bring in Justin Peters to serve in a supporting role. Their belief in Holtby paid off on Sunday when the Capitals’ netminder turned aside 35 of 36 shots versus Detroit on no rest en route to securing a playoff spot.

“That was an outstanding performance,” Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “Back-to-back in this league against good teams, goalies usually don’t fare very well and he stepped up tonight.”

That wasn’t an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination. Holtby’s been a big part of Washington’s resurgence this season with a 40-19-10 record, 2.24 GAA, and .922 save percentage in an incredible 71 games. He’s the first goaltender since Pekka Rinne in 2011-12 to reach both the 40-win and 70-game marks. Of course, Rinne was also guided by Trotz and goalie coach Mitch Korn. Among goaltenders that played in at least 70 games in a single season, his GAA is the best since Martin Brodeur in 2007-08.

Holtby’s brilliant season has been overshadowed somewhat by Carey Price’s Hart Trophy bid. In fact, in a campaign where Pekka Rinne has been nearly as dominant as Price and Devan Dubnyk swooped in to reverse the Minnesota Wild’s fortunes, Holtby might not even warrant a Vezina Trophy finalist spot. Nevertheless, Washington’s fortunes this season have been tied to Holtby.

So far that’s been to the Capitals’ benefit. They just have to hope that continues to be the case.

“Great season for him and if we’re going to go somewhere great this spring, we’re going to need a great effort from him for sure,” Niskanen said.

Goalie Nods: Halak looks to bump slump vs. Sabres

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Halak gets the nod for the Isles

Jaroslav Halak will look to get back on track against the lowly Buffalo Sabres Saturday night. Halak has lost two of three starts while allowing 10 goals on 101 shots. He gave up three goals on 39 shots in the Islanders 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus on Thursday. New York has lost four of five, but can clinch a playoff berth with a regulation win tonight.

Andrey Makarov gets the start for Buffalo.

Elsewhere…

Penguins at Blue Jackets: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Sergei Bobrovsky

Canucks at Jets: Eddie Lack vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Red Wings at Wild: Jimmy Howard vs. Devan Dubnyk

Devils at Rangers: Cory Schneider vs. Henrik Lundqvist

Lightning at Panthers: Ben Bishop vs. Roberto Luongo

Capitals at Senators: Braden Holtby vs. Andrew Hammond

Leafs at Bruins: James Reimer vs. Tuukka Rask

Stars at Predators: Jhonas Enroth vs. Pekka Rinne

Sharks at Coyotes: Antti Niemi (unconfirmed) vs. Mike Smith

Flames at Oilers: Karri Ramo vs. Ben Scrivens

Avalanche at Kings: Semyon Varlamov vs. Jonathan Quick

Goalie nods: Hamburglar goes for Ottawa

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Hammond over Anderson

Yesterday, the Ottawa Senators were mum on who’d start in goal for tonight’s key tilt against Detroit.

This morning, they made it official — Hamburglar gets the nod.

Andrew Hammond will return to the net for the first time since getting shellacked in a 5-1 loss to the Rangers last week; Craig Anderson, who started consecutive losses to Toronto and Florida over the weekend, will revert to backup status… for now.

It remains to be seen what head coach Dave Cameron will do for the remaining seven games of the regular season. Ottawa’s in a dogfight with Boston for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and, at least for now, he’s going with Hammond, who has just one regulation loss in 17 appearances this season.

For Detroit, Petr Mrazek will start tonight — a decision that’s equally as compelling as the one in Ottawa. For more on that, click here.

Elsewhere…

Panthers at Bruins: Roberto Luongo vs. Tuukka Rask

‘Canes at Caps: Cam Ward vs. Braden Holtby

Devils at Jackets: Cory Schneider vs. Sergei Bobrovsky

Bolts at Leafs: Andrei Vasilevskiy (probable) vs. James Reimer

Canucks at Preds: Eddie Lack (apparently) vs. Pekka Rinne

Rangers at Jets: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Dubnyk, Atkinson, and O’Reilly are NHL’s three stars of the week

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Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson and Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From NHL.com:

Dubnyk went 4-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .962 save percentage to lead the Wild (44-25-7, 95 points) to four consecutive victories, including their franchise-record 10th straight on the road.

Atkinson shared first in the NHL with four goals, ranked second with seven points and led the League with a +6 rating as the Blue Jackets (36-35-4, 76 points) won all three of their games, including their franchise-record eighth consecutive on the road.

O’Reilly led the NHL with seven assists and eight points to power the Avalanche (35 28 12, 82 points) to two victories in four starts.

Dubnyk now has a .930 save percentage, second to only Carey Price (.937) among regular starters. With all due respect to Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider and a handful of other goalies enjoying excellent seasons, what Dubnyk has done for the Wild should really make him a Vezina Trophy finalist, along with Price and Pekka Rinne.

Goalie Nods: Wings will start Mrazek for second straight day

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Detroit sticks with Petr Mrazek

Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard’s recent slump has been bad enough spark speculation about him potentially losing the starting job to 23-year-old netminder Mrazek. That debate only intensified after Mrazek posted a 23-save shutout against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Under these circumstances, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has decided to start Mrazek against the New York Islanders despite the lack of rest. The only other time Detroit attempted to start Mrazek on back-to-back days this season, he allowed three goals on seven shots to the Buffalo Sabres before being pulled just 13:37 minutes into the second game.

There’s no word yet on who the Islanders will counter with.

Elsewhere…

Capitals at Rangers: Braden Holtby vs. Cam Talbot

Panthers at Senators: Craig Anderson will start for Ottawa; Roberto Luongo is the probable goaltender for Florida.

Bruins at Hurricanes: Tuukka Rask is expected to be fine for today’s game after dealing with dehydration issues on Saturday, so there’s a fair chance he’ll be between the pipes for Boston. Carolina will likely go with Anton Khudobin after using Cam Ward on Saturday, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

Flames at Predators: Jonas Hiller is confirmed for Calgary while there’s a fair chance Nashville will counter with Pekka Rinne.

Ducks at Devils: It’s not know who Anaheim will start, but Cory Schneider will be in goal for New Jersey.

Sharks at Penguins: Alex Stalock vs. Marc-Andre Fleury

Blackhawks at Jets: Corey Crawford vs. Ondrej Pavelec