Oates: Braden Holtby still 'the man' for Capitals

Oates: Braden Holtby still 'the man' for Capitals
December 29, 2013, 9:00 am
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Oates: I have to get Fehr on the ice

(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

While Philipp Grubauer stood in the corner of the Capitals’ dressing room sharing stories about his days as a youngster growing up in Rosenheim, Germany, Braden Holtby sat stoically at his locker stall, sweat dripping from his beard.

Recalled by the Caps on Nov. 30 after Michal Neuvirth injured his ankle, Grubauer [5-1-1, 2.18 GAA, .937 save percentage] is one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL right now and head coach Adam Oates is riding the wave of confidence surrounding the 22-year-old rookie.

Holtby, 24, knows the feeling. He became the Capitals’ No. 1 goalie two seasons ago when injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth gave him the opportunity to carry the Caps to within one win of the 2012 Eastern Conference Final.

“Any type of adversity is a chance to improve yourself,” Holtby said. “It’s never fun when you’re going through it. It’s frustrating and everything you don’t want emotionally, but what true professionals do, and in the end what winners can do, is you take adversity and use it to your advantage and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Those are the exact words Oates wants to hear from whom he still calls his No. 1 goalie.

“Holts is the man,” Oates said. “He’s been our man. Groobs is playing good right now. That allows Holts to work on his game.”

[RELATED: Grubauer's NHL journey begins on his bed]

Holtby’s body of work in the NHL is small. In 84 career games with the Capitals he has a record of 50-26-6 with a 2.58 GAA and .920 save percentage. This season the Capitals goalies have undergone some alterations under goaltending coach Olie Kolzig and Holtby says he’s using his extra practice time – he’s played in just three of the past nine games – to work on his game.

“There are a lot of things to improve on, no matter what the results are,” he said. “It’s more getting the vision back and everything fine tuned to the point where you feel no matter how long of a rest you have, you’re going to feel sharp when you get back in the net.”

Holtby is likely to get back between the pipes in the next two days -- if not tonight in Buffalo [5 p.m., CSN] then Monday night in Ottawa [7:30 p.m., CSN].

In the meantime, he’s trying to keep his competitive fire burning without getting too emotional.

“You don’t want to portray to your teammates that you’re in a negative mood,” Holtby said. “You approach it like you want to work your way out of it. You want to take the adversity as a challenge.

“It has been different for me. Usually, I can get right back in after a bad start and work my way out of it. This situation is a little different. You deal with what you’re dealt and the only real way to get out of it is smart work and belief in yourself.”