Capitals send a strong message to Holtby

Capitals send a strong message to Holtby
July 5, 2014, 9:45 am
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(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

When the Capitals began their search for a free-agent goaltender to back up Braden Holtby, they had several factors to consider.

Should they go with an established veteran like Tomas Vokoun, who had familiarity with the Capitals as a former player and with their new coaching staff, for whom he had played in Nashville?

Should they sign a future Hall of Famer like Martin Brodeur, who helped revolutionize the position with his stickhandling ability but was in search of more playing time?

Or, should they turn to someone who came with a less costly price tag and posed less of a threat to Holtby?

“We talked about that a lot,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said after signing Justin Peters to a two-year, $1.9 million contract. “A lot of it was we wanted to send the right message to Holtby.

“We want Holtby to be our guy and we want him to be supported by a good backup. Peters is a good backup in our mind and he has some upside, too. He’s 28 years old, he’s still a young guy. He’s a good teammate, he gets along with the No. 1 guys he’s played with, so we thought it was a match that way.

“I mean, if you bring in an older, experienced guy it’s going to cost us more money and it might have been a little more pressure on Holtby. We wanted to send a message to Holtby that he’s our No. 1 guy.”

Quite frankly, it was probably a message that needed to be sent. Last season was the most difficult of Holtby’s hockey career. It began with drastic changes to the way he was accustomed to playing and the results were dreadful.

Asked to retreat into his crease by head coach Adam Oates and goalie coach Olie Kolzig, with the desired result of making him more available to stop cross-ice, backdoor passes, Holtby struggled with his angles. By giving up a foot or two at the top of his crease, Holtby began allowing bad-angle shots to get through him and his confidence waned.

By midseason he was replaced by Philipp Grubauer as the Caps’ No. 1 goalie and it wasn’t until the final six weeks of the regular season that Holtby and Kolzig went back to the drawing board and tried to get Holtby back to the style of play that got him into the NHL.

The end result was Holtby finishing with a career-worst .915 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average, which makes this upcoming season a huge one considering Holtby is entering the final season of a two-year, $3.7 million contract [$2 million salary, $1.85 million cap hit].

In Peters, the Caps are getting a goalie who has spent the past five seasons either backing up Cam Ward in Carolina, or playing with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.

Ward has played 68 games in the NHL [22-31-8, 3.05 GAA, .904 SP, 3 shutouts] and 219 games in the AHL [98-95-10, 2.72 GAA, .910 SP, 13 shutouts], all indicators he will not pose a significant threat to Holtby.

Peters said that in his conversations with the Capitals there was no discussion over how many games he would play as Holtby’s backup.

“No, we didn’t get into any of that conversation,” he said. “It’s a long season and I believe you need two goalies throughout the season, sometimes three. That’s the way an NHL season goes.

“There are injuries, there are a lot of things that happen through ups and downs, so I don’t think you can go into the season with a set plan. I think it’ll work itself out.

“I’ve never met Braden personally, but I played against him a lot and I know he’s a great goalie, a great competitor and I look forward to getting to know him, work with him and get to know my new teammates.”