They filled two very different roles Sunday night, but Alex Ovechkin’s and Braden Holtby’s roller coaster seasons both hit high points against the Minnesota Wild.
Ovechkin had the crowd chanting his name at least twice, once stopping a Wild breakaway on a Caps’ power play and also when he made it 3-0 in the third period.
Sports can be a fickle business, and Ovi’s recent scoring streak (eight points in his last five games) is a pleasant change of direction from where people pegged him earlier this season. He accomplished Sunday’s magic playing a huge 26:19, since Dale Hunter chose to dress seven defensemen for Sunday’s game. He blocked shots, created turnovers (yes, he had some giveaways too), had two hits, and was able to shoot the puck.
He played like a leader. And he helped play his team back into the playoffs, with the Caps overtaking Buffalo for the eighth seed after Sunday’s win.
Then, there’s Holtby.
None of the Capitals goalies have had a particularly smooth road this season–some of it due to play, some of it due to personnel decisions beyond their control. But of the three, Holtby, perhaps, has had to fight back from the biggest disappointment: no NHL roster spot at all.
Sunday, he proved yet again his rebound control was up to the task.
It took Holtby only 4 NHL games this season to get his first shutout–the same amount it took veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun. In Holtby’s four games at the NHL level this season, the goals against kept dropping: a 5-goals against showing against the San Jose Sharks (3 of those goals came on the power play); the 5-3 win in Detroit where he spent most of the third period battling cramps and dehydration; and a 2-1 shootout loss in Philly. Then came Sunday’s shutout, which Holtby rightly attributed after the game to being something of a team stat (the Capitals’ defense overall had a fairly solid showing Sunday).
But the team was willing to throw the recognition right back at him.
“You can’t say enough about him,” said Jason Chimera of Holtby’s performance.
All this isn’t to say Holtby has played every game perfectly (far from it), or that he doesn’t need to grow and develop his game. But everyone is going to have off nights. Everyone is going to make mistakes. Capitals fans should feel confident that Holtby’s learned how to rebound despite everything he’s dealt with this year.
He played like a winner.