Capitals' Holtby NHL's first star

Capitals' Holtby NHL's first star
March 14, 2011, 4:29 pm
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Monday, March 14, 2011, 12:24 p.m.
UPDATED 5:05 p.m.By Ben

Sometimes, the best trades are the ones an NHL general manager doesn't make. For all the praise directed George McPhee's way the past two weeks for his acquiring Jason Arnott, Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm before the NHL's trade deadline, the Capitals are also reaping the benefits of McPhee's refusal to trade goalie Braden Holtby.

Exactly two weeks after the Feb. 28 trade deadline, Holtby was named the NHL's first star of the week Monday after four consecutive wins. Vancouver's Daniel Sedin and Anaheim's Corey Perry were named the second and third stars.

"Obviously, it's nice to see that I'm getting recognized a bit," Holtby said on a conference call. "But at the same time, it's just one week, so we have to keep it going and keep this winning streak going as long as we can."

The Capitals have won a season-high eight straight games, with Holtby going 4-0-0 since last Monday with a 1.05 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage.

Holtby showed little rust last Monday in Tampa Bay, replacing an injured Michal Neuvirth to start the second period. Holtby, having just recovered from an injury of his own, stopped all 21 shots the Lightning threw at him in his first appearance since Feb. 23. Holtby then made three more saves in his first career shootout win, as the Caps beat Tampa Bay, 2-1, to remain atop the Southeast Division.

Two nights later, Holtby reached another milestone with his first NHL shutout in the Caps' 5-0 blanking of Edmonton. Holtby went more than 144 minutes without giving up a goal last week before he was beaten by Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu on Friday. It was the only goal Holtby allowed in a 2-1 win.

Holtby and the Caps finished their perfect week with Sunday's 4-3 overtime win over Chicago, as the 21-year-old improved to 8-2-2 on the season, with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He is also doing his best to make Bruce Boudreau's already difficult task of predicting his playoff starter even tougher.

"That comes with the position," Holtby said when asked if he's given any thought to who may be the starting goalie come the playoffs. "It's a rare position where only one player gets to play. But you don't really think about it too much, especially in my situation. I'm trying to take every game I get to improve and make sure that I can build on the game before and keep learning."

Neuvirth has dressed as Holtby's backup in each of the past three games and is healthy enough to start, according to Boudreau. Semyon Varlamov, who emerged as the Capitals' No. 1 goalie in each of the past two postseasons, has not played since Feb. 20 because of a lower body injury.

"I think we'll be confident in whoever the coaching staff decides," Holtby said, "and I'm just hoping I can make my stay last up here and get a few more games."

Playoffs aside, Holtby said he has not even been told if he will start in Montreal Tuesday, when the Capitals begin a season-high six-game road trip. They know their hockey in Montreal, and like the rest of the hockey world, they're quickly learning about Braden Holtby.

Since turning pro last season, Holtby already been named an ECHL all-star in South Carolina and an AHL all-star in Hershey. Now having had his first crack at starting three NHL games in the same calendar week, he's been given the league's highest weekly honor.

"It's been a pretty fun ride so far," Holtby said. "I've obviously had the pleasure of playing on three very good teams in South Carolina, Hershey and Washington.

"Usually as a goalie, you're the one that gets some of the credit when you win just because it's easier to point fingers at the goalie. Whether a team is winning or losing, the goalie seems to be that guy. But that success comes from playing on those teams. You don't get too many of those accolades this year on a losing team, so I kind of reap the rewards, I guess, but it is a team thing."