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Holtby sharp in Capitals' final scrimmage before traveling to Qualifiers

Goalie feeling 'pretty comfortable,' looks to rebound from subpar season

by Harvey Valentine / Independent Correspondent

Braden Holtby looked sharp in the Washington Capitals' final scrimmage Friday before they depart Sunday for Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

The goalie helped a team comprised primarily of the fourth line and players from Hershey of the American Hockey League to a 2-1 win against Capitals veterans.

"I feel pretty comfortable right now. I think our team out there played a pretty good game," Holtby said. "The kids were especially excited to show what they've got. A lot of skill and speed. Depth through the organization. That's exciting. For a game like that, I think we played the system pretty well. So it was fun."

The Capitals (41-20-8, .652 points percentage) will participate in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers at Scotiabank Arena against the Boston Bruins (44-14-12, .714 points percentage), the Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, .657) and Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, .645) to determine seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The Capitals play the Lightning in their first round-robin game Aug. 3. Washington has an exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes on July 29 (4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, FS-CR, NHL.TV). 

The goal Holtby allowed Friday came facing an extra attacker, when Travis Boyd tipped in Alex Ovechkin's shot with 35 seconds left in the scrimmage.

Holtby was eighth in the NHL in wins (25-14-6) but had the worst goals-against average (3.11) and save percentage (.897) in his 10 NHL seasons. The 30-year-old is in the final season of a five-year contract and can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

"This chance to play again is exciting for Braden and for his future," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "I think he realizes this is a great opportunity, and this is something where I made it very clear that he was going to be our starter before any of this got to where we are today and I thought today we purposely put the lineup the way we did. We wanted to give him a lot of action, let him stay in there the whole time, and he was really solid, so that was important."

The Captials said Saturday that goalie Ilya Samsonov will not play again this season and will remain in Washington to continue treatment for an injury he sustained before the resumption of the season. Samsonov returned to Washington from Russia on July 2 but did not participate in training camp. Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek were the Blue Team goalies Friday, and one will be the backup to Holtby this postseason.

Samsonov, a rookie, played 26 games (22 starts) and was 16-6-2 with a 2.55 GAA, .913 save percentage and one shutout before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. 

Holtby was asked Friday how close he is to midseason form.

"As I said, feeling pretty comfortable," he said. "Every day, we're trying to work as hard as we can to put our team in a good spot to play and getting obviously close to moving day to get into the bubble."

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