In their first night out since inking new deals, Braden Holtby and John Erskine showed why they deserved every penny of their two-year contract extensions.
For the second time this season, and the fifth in his NHL career, Holtby orchestrated a shutout Tuesday night against the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. Turning away all 33 of Carolina’s shots, Holtby is now 5-2-0 in his last seven consecutive starts, and good for a .937 save percentage over the same period.
“He's always in beast mode. Holts is always on fire at practice, he works extremely hard,” said Joel Ward before (somewhat?) half-joking, “Hopefully he can keep the ball rolling and get a shutout every game for us.”
After a rocky start to the season, Holtby has finally pulled his save percentage above .900 and, much like the rest of the team, is beginning to hit his stride under head coach Adam Oates.
“I think my turnaround is an attribute to how well we're playing in front of me,” said Holtby. “You could see today there were numerous shot options that we got a stick on and deflected out of play before there was a screen. It's just an attribute to our guys playing on top of their game and they're playing outstanding.”
“I think everyone's timing at the start was just a little off,” said Ward. “I think he's definitely coming into his own the last few games and we just gotta play well in front of him and limit chances.”
Which is exactly what the Capitals were able to do against the Hurricanes’ star-studded top line.
“Chances-wise they didn't have a lot of chances tonight,” said Oates. “A lot of those shots [Holtby] sees from a long way out. I think he's feeling really good and he's on a bit of a roll so we're riding him.”
Oates suggested that the coaching staff might just roll with Holtby in their back-to-back with the Flyers on Wednesday, a challenge the 23-year-old said he’d gladly accept.
“My job is to be prepared no matter what. I'd play every game if I had the opportunity.”
One of the guys making Holtby’s job just a bit easier Tuesday night was John Erskine. Erskine not only contributed on offense with his second goal of the season, the newly-resigned defenseman logged over 20 minutes in the win and took a squeam-worthy Jeremy Welsh slapshot off a skate while defending his netminder on Carolina’s final surge in the third.
"You know what, people underestimate Eskine. He's got one of the best shots on the point. It's no surprise, I think,” said Ward. “People just write him off for some odd reason but he's a big tough guy who can shoot a puck and play offense as well. When he's in the lineup for us it gives us an edge.”
Unfortunately for Erskine, the 32-year-old often found himself out of the lineup when playing under former Caps head coach Dale Hunter. Under Oates, however, Erskine has seen his ice time increase considerably from single to double-digit duty.
"I saw him before, but coming here one of the things that we talked to some of the D [about] was, 'You get a clean slate here,’” said Oates. “I know that he didn't always play and I like the physical presence he brings and he's playing a lot of minutes and handling it very well and doing a great job."
"I love the ice time,” said Erskine. “It's fun in this system. Oatesy let's us jump up in the play more and we're safe about it and it gives us more offensive chances.”
Erskine, as with the rest of the team, seems to be hitting his stride under Oates. The Capitals are producing on both sides of the ice and their pair of recent wins have -thankfully- been devoid of harmful breakdowns.
“I think the whole team is kind of grasping the system and you can tell we're playing with confidence now,” said Erskine before assuring that his foot is just fine.