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Holtby, Latta help Capitals defeat Senators

by Katie Brown

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals have at least a point in nine of their past ten games (8-1-1) after their 2-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center on Wednesday, and goaltender Braden Holtby has been an integral part of that run.

Holtby's 20 wins lead the NHL, and the Capitals (22-6-2) are first in the Eastern Conference with 46 points.

Through 25 starts, Holtby is 20-4-1.

"He makes us all look good," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He's an eraser. Good goaltending erases a lot of mistakes, and he's erased a lot of mistakes for us in our first part of the season. He's a workhorse, he's a focused athlete. I think his mental toughness is off the charts and I think everybody in our room would agree (that) he's the most valuable player with us so far this year."

Holtby made 26 saves against Ottawa, including 18 in the second and third period, and Washington got its goals from forward Michael Latta and defenseman John Carlson.

"We came out with the right mindset tonight," Holtby said. "Had a good game plan going in, we knew how skilled [the Senators] are off the rush. Got away from it a little bit in the second period, but our first period set us up pretty well for the rest of the game. Obviously, a huge goal from [Latta]."

Forward Bobby Ryan scored for the Senators (16-11-5), and Andrew Hammond made 23 saves in his first start since returning from a concussion sustained Nov. 12. The loss was Hammond's second in regulation in 30 career NHL regular-season games.

"Felt pretty comfortable in there," Hammond said. "It was one of those games where it was pretty easy to get into it early on. I felt like I settled into it pretty quick. It was one of those tight, low-scoring games where you couldn't give them much. Ultimately, it was a night where there weren't going to be a lot of goals scored, but we ended up on the wrong end of that."

Latta opened the scoring with his second goal of the season at 14:06 of the first period. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov caught the Senators on a line change and passed the puck to Latta from the neutral zone. Latta beat Hammond to the glove side on a breakaway for his first goal since Nov. 13.

Latta was happy to contribute after being a healthy scratch for two games.

"You really got to get emotionally invested, and sometimes it's hard to do that when you're kind of sitting on the bench, so obviously when you get a good break like that, you get a big hit, fight, whatever it is, it gets you a little more juiced up," Latta said.

Carlson gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead at 5:43 of the second period. Latta poke-checked the puck to forward Justin Williams from the neutral zone, and Willams sent a cross-ice pass to a streaking Carlson, who scored with a slap shot from the top of the left circle. The goal was Carlson's sixth and gave him 11 points in his past 10 games.

"We got our chances," Carlson said. "When we break the puck out like that, you're putting it into some of the best players in the world's hands, special things happen. It's not always on them to score the goals. I think it was big for us to get [Latta] in there scoring a goal. It brings everyone up. I thought we played pretty well tonight."

Ryan scored on the power play with 4:14 remaining in the third period after Capitals forward Tom Wilson was assessed a 10-minute match penalty for a hit on Curtis Lazar.

"We gave them too much respect early and let them go," said Ryan, who has 10 goals. "They are a heck of a hockey team. You've got to live with what they are going to create and you have to be ready for that. But we let them create more than they deserved and that's just a lack of direction on our part in the first period."

The Capitals are 15-1-0 when scoring first, 9-0-0 when leading after one period and 14-0-0 when leading after two periods.

"I think we've relied a little too much on Braden lately," Trotz said. "We haven't practiced a whole lot either. We can tighten up a few things. I do think we've been getting a lot of people's 'A' game because they're coming in here, they look at our win-loss record and we haven't played as well as we can. The good thing is we're finding ways to win, be it good goaltending, a good penalty kill or a good power play, or someone having a big night, and right now we're getting contributions from everyone from the first to the fourth line."

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