WASHINGTON — One night after his team exploded for a 7-3 win at the New York Islanders, all eyes will be on Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby when the teams play the second of back-to-backs Friday at Capital One Arena.
Philipp Grubauer has started Washington’s previous four games, the last three of the which the Capitals (40-23-7) have won.
Holtby, the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner, is 3-6-2 record with an .872 save percentage and a 3.73 goals-against average going back to Feb. 2 and was pulled early four times.
His 3.03 goals-against average and .907 save percentage on the season are the worst numbers of his career and led head coach Barry Trotz to provide what he called a “reset” for Holtby.
“Phil’s playing extremely well right now,” Holtby told the Washington Post. “He’s giving us the best chance to win every night. It’s one of those fortunate things in an unfortunate situation. He’s been able to play extremely well. And I can take a little time to clean up a couple of things, and can clear my head, clear the team’s head with that kind of stigma that’s kind of going on with me in net.”
Grubauer allowed three goals while making 35 saves in Thursday’s win, but the offense more than covered for him as T.J. Oshie (19 games) and Dmitry Orlov (14 games) ended scoring droughts, with Oshie scoring twice.
Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and two assists and Evgeny Kuznetsov had three assists.
Washington is tied with Pittsburgh at 87 points atop the Metropolitan Division but has played two fewer games.
The last-place Islanders (30-30-10) fell to 1-5-4 in their last 10 games.
They are 10 points behind the New Jersey Devils for the second Eastern-Conference wild card spot.
“We didn’t get any bounces, but we also had breakdowns that weren’t very good,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk told Newsday. “This time of year, when you’re fighting for your life and we don’t get those bounces you’ve got to have a little bit of anger and drive. Playoff hockey. It just wasn’t there.”
Christopher Gibson allowed five goals on 12 shots before being relieved by Jaroslav Halak.
Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd and Ryan Pulock scored the Islander goals. Ladd’s was his first in 26 games.
“When it goes that long, it’s something you think about,” Ladd, who has 10 goals this season, told NHL.com. “It’s nice to get the monkey off the back. Hopefully from there, confidence builds, and you can pop a few more.”
Holtby is 13-4-3 with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage versus the Islanders, while Halak is 9-8 with a 2.64 GAA and .907 save percentage when facing the Capitals.
“You know you’re going to get a real good response; they’ve got a lot of good character people in that Islander dressing room,” Trotz told NHL.com regarding Friday’s rematch. “We’re going to have to earn everything (Friday). I thought it came easy for us today. Some games it does, and other games you play well, and you don’t get rewarded. We’ve played well the last little while here.”
Prior to Friday’s game, the Capitals will honor Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 600th goal on Monday when he netted two against Winnipeg. Ovechkin’s 600th goal came in his 990th NHL game, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (718 games), Mario Lemieux (719) and Brett Hull (900) as the fastest to reach 600 goals.
After scoring 33 goals a year ago, the 32-year-old Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals (42) this season and is looking to become the third player in NHL history to record eight 50-goal seasons, joining Gretzky (nine) and Mike Bossy (nine)