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Hardworking Holtby impresses Capitals coach Trotz

by Brian Compton

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has tinkered with his forward lines with hopes of spreading offense around, but there has been one constant over the past several weeks: Braden Holtby.

The Capitals goaltender has started the past 13 games and will likely get the nod from Trotz again Thursday when Washington hosts the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVA).

Holtby, who is 16-8-6 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, has helped the Capitals move into third place in the Metropolitan Division entering Wednesday. As for the heavy workload, Holtby says the more, the merrier.

"I feel fine," Holtby said after the Capitals practiced outdoors Wednesday. "I feel better when I play more. I feel better physically. I've always kind of hated days off in general. I've said it before: If I could play every game, I would. Whenever Coach calls my name, I'm more than happy to play."

Holtby attributed some of his recent success to goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who joined Trotz's staff last June after the two left the Nashville Predators.

"He's very passionate; he's got a ton of knowledge," Holtby said. "He's willing to share that knowledge. That's something that you want in a coach. A goalie-coach relationship has to be fairly close, and it's just fun to pick his brain and see what you can learn from him.

"I think there's definitely some improvements that I've made. I try to tighten things up in certain situations so that I don't get as spread out and nothing gets through me. It's been a process, but it's definitely coming."

Trotz also believes Korn's work has played a huge role in Holtby's recent success, along with two big free-agent signings last July.

"He's worked on a lot of things with Mitch Korn and our goaltending staff," Trotz said of Holtby. "Also, I think our system is a lot different than maybe the previous year in terms of our play and the additions of [Matt] Niskanen and [Brooks] Orpik. I think early [in the season], Braden's biggest problem was he wasn't getting very many shots, and that's hard for a goaltender when you're used to getting a lot of shots and not getting as much.

"I think he's gotten more comfortable. He's worked on his game. I feel very comfortable. He's worked hard; he's got that sort of blue-collar mentality where he really works on his game. He's filling in the holes where he knows he needs to fill in. He's doing a really good job. I'll ride him as long as he says, 'I'm good to go.'"

Holtby's consistency has not only helped Washington climb the standings in the Metropolitan, but it's also created a confidence on the blue line. Even when the Capitals make a mistake, they know their last line of defense is there to bail them out.

"He's won us some hockey games over the last couple of weeks," Capitals defenseman Mike Green said. "He's just been very consistent and come up with big saves when we needed him. That's all you can really ask for from a goalie, be consistent and make those stops when we need him, and that's what he's done."

This will be Holtby's first outdoor game in the NHL, but he had the opportunity to play in a similar atmosphere with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League in 2012 against the Adirondack (now Lehigh Valley) Phantoms at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Holtby said he loves this type of event and the smiles it generates during practice and in the dressing room.

"It's fun to see the guys having so much fun," Holtby said. "We play so much throughout your career, and it gets to the point where you kind of don't appreciate things as much as you should. A day like today really shows how fun hockey is.

"It's great. It shows how many people here really appreciate the game. That's what this game is for. It's for true fans, it's for the hockey community. We're just glad to have it here. It's a fun thing to be a part of."


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