Braden Holtby used to shoot pucks at his basement wall for hours in full goalie gear while he waited for his father to return home from work. Growing up, the future Washington Capitals goaltender played forward with kids two or three years older than him and displayed his stickhandling prowess. Those old habits have made Holtby into arguably one of the better puck handlers in the National Hockey League.
On Wednesday night, with the Caps leading 4-3 on the power play, Holtby gathered the puck in his defensive zone. He was all alone. Holtby could have waited for his teammates to gather around him for a breakout attempt or tossed the puck up ice to jumpstart a rush. Instead, he flung a pass to his left straight to the Nashville Predators’ Ryan Johansen, who was stationed just outside the blueline.
It did not go well.
After the game, head coach Todd Reirden was asked about the play by reporters. Six seconds of awkward silence followed as Reirden collected his thoughts in silence.
“A goalie playing the puck up on a power play is not part of our system; it’s not part of our design of how we break pucks out,” Reirden said. “That’s an unforced error.”
Washington Defensemen John Carlson, perhaps assuming Holtby was going to give the puck to his team, rushed from his spot near the Caps’ bench to stop Johansen by had no backup. The Predators center flung a relatively weak wrist shot past Holtby’s blocker and off the inside off the post to tie the game. With less than five minutes left, Holtby let in his fifth goal of the game. The Capitals lost, 5-4.
“It’s what killed us,” Holtby said of the Johansen goal.
In the two-month grind that is the NHL playoffs, mistakes don’t cost you games; they cost you winning the Stanley Cup.
“As the games get higher and higher level of importance, those are ones that will cost you,” Reirden said. “We need to learn lessons from it. Those were pointed out after the game.”