ARLINGTON, Va. – When playing at peak performance, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby oozes a steely confidence, each kick of the leg and flip of the glove accentuated with a subtle flair.
Coach Barry Trotz recognizes that self-assurance in goal, which has seeped into the mentality of Holtby's teammates.
"You have a strut, whatever you want to call it," Trotz said. "You have a little swagger. That's the one position in our sport that can do that.
"You see it with Braden. His play has been stellar and so has our play."
Holtby is scheduled to make his 20th consecutive start and franchise-record 26th straight appearance in NBC's Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Philadelphia Flyers (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN1). In his previous 19 starts, Holtby is 13-2-4 with a 2.09 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and two shutouts.
"I think the fact that there's been a lot of work, it's been easier to get in a rhythm that way," Holtby said. "As a goalie, it makes it a lot easier to prepare when you know you don't have to steal a game for your team or you know you just have to focus on your job. If you do it, there's a very high chance you're going to win a game. You don't have to worry about making up for others because I know everyone is going to do their job and I just have to focus on mine in order to win a game."
Holtby's start will be his 37th of the season, eight from matching last season's total. Washington's previous coaching staff curtailed the 25-year-old's aggressiveness, affecting his confidence as he struggled to adapt.
Trotz, hired by the Capitals in May after 15 seasons coaching the Nashville Predators, tasked longtime goaltending coach Mitch Korn with reintroducing Holtby's greatest assets into his game and refining them.
When Korn inherited Holtby, he saw an incredibly athletic goaltender that didn't utilize enough body control. To illustrate, Korn would show Holtby video clips of him making saves where all four limbs would be moving in different directions.
Using a film-study application called Hudl, Korn uploads footage of Holtby's starts marked with comments and requested adjustments, which were rather significant at the beginning of the season.
"Honest to goodness now, I get through these games, knock on wood, in half the time," Korn said. "The things that I used to harp on, I don't even have to mention anymore.
"During this stretch, [which] has been pretty long so it's not a hot week and then it disappeared, he's really made great adjustments that give him a chance whether he's on or not on on a given night to have success."
Whenever asked to dissect his individual play, Holtby often directs the conversation toward Washington's overall play. He has benefitted from a more structured approach in front of him.
Goalie - WSH
GAA: 2.23 | SVP: .923
Compared to last season, the Capitals are allowing five fewer shots per game, and goals-against per game are down to 2.45 from 2.79. That defensive stability has decreased the number of game-saving stops Holtby has to make.
"The main thing is we are playing a very confident game," Holtby said. "We're not panicking in any situation. We're focusing on playing our game, forcing the other team to play into our style. If there's a chance, a guy coming in, our players have trust in me to make the save and they're not trying to overcompensate and opening up other gaps. That's trust on the ice. You each have a job to do and you do it. And that's what we're doing."
Conversely, having Holtby as a safety net has inspired the Capitals to take chances when necessary.
"You're making plays and you're not afraid to be aggressive on 50-50 pucks, where sometimes when your goalie's not playing well, now you're caught on your heels and you're sitting back and you're giving up more shots," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think you kind of play that safe, not-to-lose mentality which doesn't get you anywhere in this league."
Holtby's run likely will end Saturday against the Dallas Stars, the second game of a back-to-back set of road games, Trotz said.
"I don't care how many games in a row it is," Korn said. "All I care about is that we're seeing him sustain his play, his energy, his focus, his acuity. [If] all those things exist, he can play 100 games in a row. If they stopped after five games, then you have to reset, but knock on wood, those are the things I look for. Knock on wood, they've sustained themselves."