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Holtby won't be traded by Capitals, GM says

Goalie who can become free agent being counted on for Cup run

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals are hoping to make at least one more move before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, but general manager Brian MacLellan reiterated Wednesday that goalie Braden Holtby isn't going anywhere.

"I don't know. How do you anticipate?" MacLellan said when asked what the Capitals would do before the deadline. "Sometimes calls come in and are unexpected and bring up things. It's tough to say 'This is what we're going to do,' but we're going to be open to whatever conversations we have."

The Capitals (37-17-5) are 11-11-0 since Dec. 23 and fell out of first place in the Metropolitan Division for the first time since Oct. 19 when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 on Tuesday. Pittsburgh leads Washington by one point.

Earlier Tuesday, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon in a trade with the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round choice in the 2021 NHL Draft. Though Washington is looking to improve other areas, Holtby, who can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, will not be used as a trade chip.

"I think our story's been the same the whole year, that he's our guy and we're going to try to compete for a [Stanley] Cup," MacLellan said. "I think we want him at the top of his game at the end of the year."

Video: PHI@WSH: Holtby extends his pad to rob Hayes

Holtby, who is likely to make his fourth straight start when the Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSWA, TSN2, RDS, NHL.TV), is 21-13-4 with a 3.11 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage, each the worst of his 10-season NHL career. A pending unrestricted free agent on July 1, his play has led to speculation that 22-year-old rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov, who is 16-4-1 with a 2.38 GAA and a .917 save percentage, might take over the starting job.

But Samsonov lost his past two starts, to the Penguins on Feb. 2 and to the New York Islanders on Monday, allowing nine goals on 53 shots (.830 save percentage) and was pulled for the first time in his NHL career after giving up five goals on 20 shots against the Islanders.

Since replacing Samsonov in the second period of the 5-3 loss to the Islanders, Holtby has stopped 97 of 104 shots over four games (three starts) for a 2.07 GAA and .933 save percentage. Though the Capitals went 1-2-0 on their recent road trip at the Colorado Avalanche (3-2 win), Arizona Coyotes (3-1 loss) and Vegas Golden Knights (3-2 loss), Holtby's play was a bright spot in each of those games.

With contract talks on hold until after the season, Holtby's future remains uncertain, but it's clear Washington isn't ready to pass the torch to Samsonov just yet.

"I think at the end of the year we'll sit down with Braden and talk about where we're at," MacLellan said. "Samsonov's been great, but still, he's a young goalie. This is his first year, still developing. So we'll sit down and evaluate everything at the end of the year."

Dillon should address an area of weakness for Washington, which has struggled defensively over the past two months.

Since Dec. 23, the Capitals are 29th in the NHL in allowing 3.45 goals per game, ahead of the Florida Panthers (3.58) and the Maple Leafs (3.58). In 37 games before that, the Capitals were a League-best 26-6-5 and gave up 2.76 goals per game, which ranked eighth in the NHL.

MacLellan said he expects Dillon, with his size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and physicality (second in the NHL among defensemen with 178 hits) to help the Capitals be tougher to play against around their net, an area the Golden Knights exploited in scoring each of their three goals on Monday.

"One of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here," MacLellan said. "I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

Another area of concern for the Capitals is scoring from their third and fourth lines. Third-line center Lars Eller has scored 14 goals, but their other bottom six forwards -- Richard Panik (seven goals) Carl Hagelin (five), Garnet Hathaway (six), Nic Dowd (five) and Brendan Leipsic (three) -- have combined for 26.

No player on the fourth line of Leipsic (33-game drought), Dowd (16 games) and Hathaway (19 games) has scored a goal in the past 16 games.

MacLellan would like to upgrade at forward,and after acquiring Dillon sounded open to trading a defenseman to add a forward.

"I'd consider anything if it makes sense for us," MacLellan said. "We'll continue to talk to teams. If that's an option, I'm already pursuing it."

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