Boudreau Tabs Holtby to Start on the Island
By Scott Lowe
The Washington Capitals, who had started showing signs of returning to the more consistent winning ways they enjoyed a season ago before stumbling a bit of late, are staring at a pair of road contests that they should win - and that they need to win if they are going to remain a serious contender for the top spot in the East.
So, what does head coach Bruce Boudreau do? With rookie netminder Michael Neuvirth sidelined yet again by a lower body injury, Boudreau selects recent Hershey recall Braden Holtby to start tonight against the New York Islanders. Maybe this is a reward for Holtby being the good soldier and shuttling back and forth between D.C. and Pennsylvania without seeing much time. It just seems like a strange time to make such a choice given the Caps' need to right the ship once and for all.
Looking at it from Boudreau's point of view, however, he has played hunches with goaltenders in the past, inserting untested rookie Semyon Varlamov early in a seven-game playoff series win vs. the Rangers two season ago and going back to the well with Varlamov last year when Jose Theodore struggled. Boudreau seems to have a real good feel for the mood and emotional makeup of his team at any given time, and usually pushes the right buttons when it comes to these types of decisions.
It remains to be seen what Boudreau will do to jump-start an offense that has fallen behind in almost every game in the new year and has only tallied one first-period goal in its last eight contests. The last time Washington led entering the third period was during the Winter Classic win against Pittsburgh.
In the Caps' last outing vs. the Flyers Boudreau sent Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom out with the speedy and physical Jason Chimera for the third period. That trio's speed was very difficult for the Flyers to handled as they created numerous quality chances that led to Ovechkin's 16th goal. That was one of many combinations Boudreau has tried during the team's recent offensive funk. "Which of my 27 different combinations do you want to talk about?" he quipped after a recent game.
Said Ovechkin recently: "We have played great in the third period all season long. We just have to start playing in the first period like we do in the third and it will get better."
How the rest of the lineup shakes up tonight is anyone's guess. Marcus Johansson has picked up his play in recent weeks, but was a minus-two vs. Philadelpha. He did set up Mike Knuble's momentum-changing third-period goal and seems to be a better fit as a No. 2 center than Matthieu Perreault. Energy players Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon have been sorely missed, but Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon have filled in admirably in their absence.