Braden Holtby would play every game if he could, he'll often tell you.
He has for the past six weeks, setting a Washington Capitals franchise record Thursday with his 23rd consecutive appearance, including 17 straight starts. Against the Philadelphia Flyers, he buoyed his sluggish teammates to salvage a point in a 3-2 overtime loss.
"He's been outstanding, and again [Thursday] he was the reason why we got that extra point," defenseman Mike Green said. "Just gives us the confidence knowing that he's been that good lately, so we can just go out and play the game. He's been outstanding. I can't say enough good things about him really."
No Capitals goaltender has started as many games in a row as Holtby has since Olaf Kolzig's 18 in 2003, a mark that the 25-year-old will tie Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings and overtake next week. With games against the Colorado Avalanche and Flyers on Monday and Wednesday, his streak will likely stretch to at least 20 barring some sort of unforeseen circumstance. Holtby's commandeering of the crease coerced the Capitals to loan backup Justin Peters, who has not played since Nov. 29, to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League for conditioning.
Another round of back-to-back road games is scheduled for next weekend in Nashville and Dallas, meaning Wayne Stephenson's record of 22 straight starts set in 1979-80 will probably remain intact. Regardless, Holtby will be prepared to play as always.
"I think that's one of the benefits I've had of playing in the American League," Holtby said, referring to the three-games-in-three-days nature of the AHL. "You play every game up here and it's not near as hard as playing every two to three down there. Players play 82, shouldn't be any excuse for a goalie."
Analytical studies suggest that playing a goaltender twice in as many days "decreases their ability to perform at an optimal level." To that end, Holtby has started both games of a back-to-back set three times this season and is 0-2-1 with a 4.32 goals-against average and .861 save percentage in the latter halves (including a loss in 20 minutes of relief against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Peters' last start back in November).
"Everybody keeps throwing them towards me," coach Barry Trotz said of the aforementioned analytics. "I think there's a place for analytics. I get that. But there's also a place for the old eyeball test. It's a little bit trouble with the curve type of thing."
Holtby, 14-4-5 during his record-breaking run with a 2.25 GAA and .925 save percentage, has provided Washington with solidity in goal that has recently been absent. Concerns have been raised about his physical stamina or whether the Capitals are doing him a disservice by "riding him into the ground."
Holtby, quite frankly, doesn't care.
"No, not at all," he said. "I like to play, but like I've said before, as long as we're being successful, that's all I care about."
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