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Holtby's 21 saves help Capitals shut out Flyers

by Adam Vingan /

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz strongly believes no player affects the overall play of a team more than the goaltender.

To that end, there is an evident correlation between the play of goaltender Braden Holtby and Washington's recent run.

Holtby, in his 20th consecutive start, made 21 saves for his fourth shutout of the season in a 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center on Wednesday.

"It was a great win, 1-0, we'll take those wins," said Capitals forward Jason Chimera, whose goal 3:13 into the game stood up as the winner. "[Holtby], you can't say enough about the guy. He's awesome."

Holtby and the Capitals (24-11-8) are 14-2-4 in their past 20 games, climbing to within three points of the New York Islanders for the Metropolitan Division lead. Holtby has a 1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and three shutouts over that span.

"I thought we were a little bit loose at times," Trotz said. "I thought we relied on Braden a little bit too much. … When we needed a good save or [penalty kill], I thought Braden was real solid for us."

It was Washington's seventh straight home win, its longest such streak since Dec. 20, 2011, through Jan. 15, 2012.

The Capitals held an opponent to 25 or fewer shots for the 12th time this season, matching their total from the previous two seasons combined.

"We know we're not perfect right now," Holtby said. "We know we have a long way to go to where we want to be. But what we're doing is putting ourselves in a good position in the [Stanley Cup Playoff] race, winning games and finding ways to win games, really creating that winning culture around here."

Goaltender Rob Zepp made 25 saves for the Flyers (17-20-7).

"We knew it was going to be a tight game against them," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "They've done a good job this year of getting those games when it's tight. We pressured pretty hard at the end to [try] and get that tying goal. … I think we did a good job of getting our chances, but at the end we need to make sure it goes in the net."

Philadelphia and Washington played each other for the second time in a week; the Flyers defeated the Capitals 3-2 in overtime last Thursday.

The Flyers struggled to break out of their zone early in the game, and a turnover led directly to Chimera's goal.

Stationed near the Flyers bench, Matt Niskanen intercepted Mark Streit's clearing attempt and flipped the puck back toward the net. Chimera tipped it through his legs and Zepp's for his fourth goal of the season, first since Dec. 18.

Coincidentally, Chimera scored in Washington's previous 1-0 regular-season win, against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 11, 2012.

Philadelphia started the second period as the aggressor, forcing Holtby to make several key saves. The Washington goalie stymied Wayne Simmonds' stuff-in attempt before turning away Giroux as he zoomed through the slot on a breakaway.

The physicality also ramped up in the second period. Niskanen leveled Scott Laughton with an open-ice hit with 2:50 remaining. Laughton left the ice after the hit and did not return because an upper-body injury.

"You know they're going to bring it, so you have to bring it too," Chimera said. "We had to match their [physicality]. We've got a big team too, so we can impose our size on some guys."

Zepp matched Holtby in making impressive saves in the second period. In the final minute, Zepp kicked out his left leg to stop Eric Fehr from in tight, leaving the Capitals forward shaking his head in disbelief as he watched the replay from the bench.

"I had to fight through some traffic to see, but I did see him pull it," Zepp said. "I saw him cut to the middle, so I just tried to use my feet to get me there. I got a good push and was able to. I think I surprised him there."

With Zepp pulled for an extra attacker with 1:23 remaining, the Flyers came close to finally scoring during a frantic scramble. In the final minute, Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier hacked at a loose puck as it bounced around the crease, but the Capitals were able to clear it out of danger.

"We grinded out a win," Holtby said. "Even in the last few minutes of the game, we found a way to do it, and that's what winning teams do."

The Capitals visit the Nashville Predators on Friday. It will be Trotz's first game against the Predators, who he coached for 15 seasons.

"I know the Nashville group will be ramped up and the crowd will be ramped up," Trotz said. "I spent a lot of years there. It'll probably be a little emotional. When I left there, they were nothing but first class, not a typical parting of the ways, if you will.

"Nashville became my home and still is to this point just because my family's there and I've got some many friends there. I'm going to try to go low-key, as low as I can. I don't blend in very well there. It might be a little more difficult."

The Flyers, who have been shut out five times, host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

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