Facing talented Maple Leafs rookie Mitch Marner on a breakaway, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby attempted one of the riskiest plays in hockey: a sprawling poke check at the blue line.
Toronto caught the Capitals on their feet when Marner and Brian Boyle exited the penalty box after a 5-on-3 power play. A quick, smart outlet pass from defenseman Nikita Zaitsev sprung Marner, who separated himself far from a flat-footed Capitals. But, Holtby was up for the challenge. Knowing Marner is a skilled forward, Holtby left Washington’s net and poke checked a surprised Marner while sliding across the blue line.
Holtby’s poke check was a high-risk, high-reward play. If he missed the puck, Marner had a clear path to an empty net and an easy goal. However, Holtby’s effort prevented Marner from scoring a much-needed goal and helped the Capitals maintained a 3-1 lead. Also, kudos to Alex Ovechkin (at least it appears to be him) for covering his goaltender’s back in Washington’s net – that’s a great, small effort by the Caps’ star sniper.
The play is indicative of Holtby’s talent. He’s a calm, steady presence in net, but when it comes down to it, he’s not afraid to mix it up and make a game-changing (albeit risky) play. It’s why he’s a favorite to win the Vezina and is among the best (if not the best) netminders in the NHL.