Braden Holtby has been waiting his entire life to get the opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, so it’s no surprise he’s perfectly content to get his 11th straight start tonight against the Florida Panthers.
“It’s a lot easier at this level,” Holtby said when asked to compare with playing 11 straight the AHL.
“You don’t have those three in three, back-to-back-to-backs that are killers. At the same time, my mindset has always been I want to play every game and I shouldn’t get tired. If I played a whole season straight I believe I can play like the rest of the guys in here and keep my body in shape and mentally strong.”
Since relieving Michal Neuvirth in Pittsburgh on Feb. 7, Holtby has started 10 straight games and has gone 7-3-0, allowing just 21 goals. In the midst of that run the Capitals signed Holtby to a two-year contract extension that will pay him $1.85 million in each of his next two seasons.
Holtby spends as much time training himself mentally throughout a season as he does physically. An avid advocate in the power of positive thinking, Holtby said there are times in the season that every starting goalie battles mental fatigue.
“That’s always the first thing to go,” he said. “It always is. I think as a goaltender you notice it more because it’s more demanding as a goaltender.
“When you’re tired from flying back and forth, and travel, it’s never really your body. You know the right things to do to make sure your body is feeling fine. It’s always your mental fatigue that some games you have to find a way to battle through and make sure you can bring that focus to the table. That’s part of being a professional.”
Scratch sheet: Troy Brouwer is expected to return to the lineup after missing Tuesday night’s game with the flu. He’ll return to a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Fehr, who is coming off a three-point night against the Bruins.
Wojtek Wolski will remain in the lineup on a fourth line with Mathieu Perreault and Joey Crabb. That leaves Aaron Volpatti as the Caps’ healthy forward scratch.
On defense, Jeff Schultz is expected to replace Tom Poti on a third pairing with rookie Steve Oleksy.
Treading water: Despite their 7-3-0 run the Caps remain eight points behind the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes and five behind the eighth-place New York Rangers.
“It’s frustrating,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I always look at it and I keep thinking to myself, ‘Did they forget to update those standings?’ Because I feel like we should be getting closer and closer but we just aren’t.
“But you can’t let that get you down. Our record has been a lot better in the last 10 games or so and it’s got to continue to be like that. We put ourselves so far behind that I guess we should expect to see ourselves down towards the bottom for a while but there’s nothing else we can do right now besides play hard and win.”
Panthers update: With Jose Theodore sidelined the next six weeks with a groin injury look for 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom to get the start tonight against the Caps. The 6-foot-6 Swede picked up his first win of the season on Tuesday with a 4-1 win over Winnipeg. Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau has three goals in his last two games.