Before every game, the Washington Capitals usually play soccer. That’s what you get when half your team is European.
The players usually form a circle and kick a soccer ball around in the air. In addition to waking up their muscles and tuning hand-eye coordination, the kickaround is a common team-building activity.
Except tonight, either because the players wanted to change things up due to their seven-game losing streak or because they forgot to pack the right equipment– the players used a giant yoga ball instead of soccer ball. CSN opened their telecast with a clip. It was silly.
Braden Holtby poses with his dad Greg. (Photo credit: @CapitalsPR)
In the middle of a six game losing streak, the Caps are in a tough stretch, playing their next five games on the road. Being away from home, though, has it upsides. This weekend, Washington is hosting their annual mentors trip, with players allowed to bring one guest to New Jersey and Montreal. The group is made up mostly of dads, who will get to see what it’s like to be an NHL player for a few days. Continue Reading
Editor’s Note: RMNB reader Lily P. went to Washington Capitals practice a few days before the NHL’s Christmas break. Instead of asking a player for an autograph or a photo with them, she went high concept. Here is her story.
After wanting to go for a very, very long time, I finally went to a Caps practice at Kettler on December 23rd. I had a very special experience. One of my favorite players is Braden Holtby and I really wanted to meet him. He was practically the last guy on the ice that day but as he started making his way towards the locker room, he turned and walked back towards the fence where I was after a few kids shouted his name.
Despite looking absolutely exhausted, Braden signed a whole bunch of autographs. I was really close in line petrified, not knowing what to do.
Grubauer’s vacant locker at Kettler (Photo: Chris Gordon)
Photo: Mike Carlson
For nearly two months, the Capitals have had a logjam in net. Called up in place of the injured Michal Neuvirth at the end of November, Philipp Grubauer became Washington’s number one netminder. A veteran of just two NHL games before this season, Grubauer posted the seventh highest save percentage in the league (.926), along with a record of 6-4-5 and a goals against average of 2.38.
Desperate for points, Caps head coach Adam Oates stuck with him, with Grubauer starting 14 of 20 games. Grubauer, though, came back to earth. The morning after being pulled for the second straight game — Washington’s fifth loss in a row — Grubauer was not on the ice for the day’s practice. The Caps quickly announced that he had been sent down to Hershey.
“We lost that spark in a sense,” Oates said of Grubauer’s recent losses. He didn’t blame the young German for them though.
“Three goalies is not a good situation,” Oates continued. “It’s a little dysfunctional for everybody, but it’s a situation that, unfortunately, just happened.”
After the game, the fan base — and the team — seemed to hit the panic button. People on Twitter smashed their keyboards, pointing out Washington’s glaring defensive holes and overreliance on the power play. None of that, however, is anything new. It’s not likely to change before playoff time either.
On Saturday, Adam Oates came up with wacky line combinations in hopes of righting Washington’s four game skid. It didn’t work.
The game got off to an awful start when Rick Nash picked off a silly defensive zone pass from Dmitry Orlovto put New York up just 70 seconds in. Fifteen minutes later, Nash was at it again. A lack of spatial awareness led to two hooking penalties on the Caps. On the ensuing 5-on-3, the former Blue Jacket floated a weak wrister through Phillip Grubauer’s legs. About a minute and a half later, Derek Stepan put the nail in Washington’s coffin with a shot though traffic. Braden Holtby came in, but the game was already over.
Ovechkin tried to give the Caps life with a 5-on-3 bullet early in the second, but Ryan Callahan put Washington back in their place just 86 seconds later. This was never a game anyway. Rangers slam Caps 4-1.
After giving up three goals in 22 minutes of game action, Philipp Grubauer was relieved from service in the Washington Capitals net. Grubi, who wasn’t getting much help from his teammates, skated off. On came Braden Holtby.
Braden Holtby has had a bad year, relegated to the bench for most of the last two months. Another Braden, though, has it worse. Eight-year-old Braden Neinaber of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan suffers from Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a disease similar to cancer.
Saturday, the two Bradens, along with Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, and Olie Kolzig skated at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, a dream granted with the The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada. The younger Braden faced off against his idol in net and got into a mock fight with Wilson. Afterwards, he got a tour of the Caps locker room and met head coach Adam Oates.
Neuvirth salutes the crowd after being named the first star of the night. (Photo: Rob Carr)
Michal Neuvirth had been left behind in the Capitals goalie controversy. While Braden Holtby has struggled to find playing time, Neuvy hadn’t suited up for a game since November 29, when he got hurt stepping on the ice for warmups. Eventually, Neuvirth’s agent requested a trade. The status quo, though, continued. Philipp Grubauer got the starts, Holtby sat on the bench, and Neuvy watched from the press box. With little notice, Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave the Czech netminder a chance Friday.
“I was nervous as hell,” Neuvirth said of his thoughts before the game. “I was probably as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me ‘Just do what you do and try to be good.’”
“First time I step on the ice for warmup, I was feeling pretty good and confident,” he added.
Fresh-faced Braden Holtby will be starting in net for the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. With Holtby relieving Caps #1 goalie Philipp Grubauerafter two weeks of inactivity, this seems like the right time to get to know the new guy in the Capitals uniform, who — we have learned– goes by the nickname Holtby and is from the nation of Canada.
I had the opportunity to meet Braden during the lockout, when he was playing with the Hershey Bears. The conversation got pretty deep.