Sloppy Setback – Friday’s home game for the Capitals against the Montreal Canadiens went south shortly after puck drop, and it stayed south. Although the Caps fell by a 3-2 count in the end, that final score was deceiving. The Canadiens – winners of just two of their previous 10 games (2-6-2) and losers of five straight on the road – never trailed and never wavered.
Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer made a number of strong saves, keeping the Canadiens from rolling up the score, but his stretch of six straight decisions without a regulation loss (4-0-2) ended with Friday’s loss.
“We had a lot of chances to score a little bit more,” says Canadiens coach Claude Julien, “and sometimes it’s tough. You hope that those are things that are going to sort themselves out here with a little bit of confidence. But at the end of the day, you look at your team and you’re pretty happy with them, with the way they performed from start to finish. I thought we had a real good focus, and I thought our compete level was extremely good.”
Caps coach Barry Trotz characterized his own team’s performance as “more cheat that compete.” Although the Caps have a more than respectable 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games, they’re now 1-2-1 in their last four, and if not for a trio of late goals in two of those games, Washington would be saddled with a four-game regulation losing streak.
Grubauer surrendered only two goals; the third Montreal goal was an empty-netter with 1:18 left. Ex-Canadiens center Lars Eller scored to make it 3-2 with 53.1 seconds left, so Max Pacioretty’s empty-netter turned out to be the game-winner.
After a scoreless first in which Washington mustered only four shots on net, the two sides traded power-play goals in the second when Pacioretty and the Caps’ John Carlson scored on the man advantage.
The Caps weren’t able to muster a five-on-five goal against the Habs, generating just 18 shots on goal at even strength. Grubauer has now started 13 games this season, and the Caps have supported him with two or fewer goals in eight of those starts.
“I just felt bad for Grubi,” says Trotz, “because Grubi gave us a chance. He was outstanding tonight, and we have to be way better.”
“For sure we were sloppy,” says Carlson. “We were a little bit better on the walls in our zone today. That was something we were not very good at [Thursday in New Jersey]. We were just leaning the wrong way on a lot of plays tonight. That’s what it was, in my opinion.”
10 For 20 – Eller scored one of Washington’s two goals in Friday’s loss to the Habs. The goal was his 10
th of the season and his fifth in just seven games in the month of January.
Friday night’s goal also marked the second time this month that Eller has victimized a former employer. He scored earlier this month against the St. Louis Blues, and his goal against the Habs on Friday leaves Nashville, San Jose and Vegas as the only three teams in the league against which he has yet to score.
The 65 Car – Caps winger Andre Burakovsky drew back into the lineup in Friday’s loss after a three-game absence, two of which were related to illness and the third of which was a healthy scratch situation coming out of the Caps’ bye week.
“I felt good,” says Burakovsky. “I think from right away I got a really good opportunity when I walked in the middle and hit the post. That was a really good shift, and when you have a shift like that in the beginning [of the game], you’re building confidence from that. I think right after that shift, I felt really comfortable with having the puck and with handling the puck. I think I made a lot of good plays out there, and I’ve just got to build on this. I think it was pretty good.”
Burakovsky appeared to be one of Washington’s most engaged players on Friday. He finished the night with 15:14 in ice time, including 1:44 worth of power play time. Burakovsky fired off six shots, getting one on net, having one blocked, and missing the mark on four occasions. His coach concurred with Burakosvky’s assessment of his own performance.
“I thought he was one of the few bright spots,” says Trotz of Burakovsky. “He was really skating, he was feeling it early, and I was trying to get him some ice time because he was one of the guys who was going. He made a good response. That’s just one game. He can hang his hat on one game and hopefully he can build from that.”
Credit To Canadiens – Montreal hobbled into the District with a five-game losing streak on the road, a skid during which it was outscored by a combined 16-4 in the five contests. In their most recent outing, the Habs delivered a lackluster effort in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins in Boston. The Habs responded with a very strong, top-to-bottom, 60-minute performance in Friday’s win over the Caps.
“As I said before the game to our guys,” says Trotz, “They’re a proud organization and I listened to them talk about their last game in Boston and they were not happy. They felt that they could play with a lot more purpose and a lot more energy and all that, and they did.
“They came out and line after line just competed hard. They protected their goaltender, they won their battles and honestly I thought they could have had seven goals tonight.”
Even with the win, the Habs are still hurting in the standings. The two-point gain leaves them nine points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I think our team played extremely well tonight,” says Julien. “So for me, that’s five out of six games where we’ve played pretty good hockey, and that’s what we have to look at, that’s what we’ve got to build on.
“We’ve got a real big mountain to climb to get back in the playoffs, and we realize that. We realize it’s going to take a lot of wins, and we’ve got to give ourselves a chance because we believe in ourselves. We couldn’t let that Boston game affect us tonight, but we had to learn from it. And I think the guys showed they were ready to bounce back, and I’m proud of them tonight for the effort.”
Down On The Farm – The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays eked out a 3-2 road victory on Friday night over the Norfolk Admirals.
Hampus Gustafsson and Tim McGauley scored in the second to stake the Stingrays to a 2-0 lead. After the Admirals tied it up with a pair in the third, Kris Bindulis netted his third of the season to win it for South Carolina in the extra session. Parker Milner stopped 35 of 37 shots in goal to earn the victory, raising his record to 12-3-2-0 on the season.
The 24-9-3-1 Stingrays are staying over in Norfolk to face the Admirals once again on Saturday night at The Scope.
By The Numbers – Carlson led the Caps with 29:11 in ice time, eight shots and 11 shot attempts … Brett Connolly led the Caps with five hits … Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie each blocked three shots to pace Washington … Eller won 13 of 16 face-offs (81%) and Jay Beagle won seven of 11 (64%).