Two Goals, Two Points – As the Albert Hammond (Sr.) song goes, “It never rains in California.” That line may be a truer statement of the Capitals’ collective ability to put pucks in the net in California than an observation about the state’s precipitation frequency. It never rains goals for the Caps in the Golden State, but goaltender Philipp Grubauer was perfect on the 24 shots he faced and he made Nicklas Backstrom’s top corner snipe stand up in a 2-0 Washington win over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday afternoon.
One of the two goals the Caps generated against the Sharks in San Jose was an empty-netter, from Lars Eller with 1:49 remaining in the game.
Saturday’s game marks the 25
th time this season the Capitals have scored two or fewer goals, and it’s only the second time they’ve managed to claim two points in doing so (2-20-3). Washington’s only previous win when scoring two or fewer goals this season is a 2-1 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers at Capital One Arena.
While the Caps can’t be happy about coming home 1-2-0 from this season’s California trip, they’ll have to be satisfied with ending a seven-game losing streak (0-6-1) and salvaging a pair of points from an otherwise dry trip.
Getting two points while scoring a combined total of two goals (with a goalie in the net) in a three-game stretch is a positive, and the Caps can thank their recently improved team defense and Grubauer for those much needed points.
“It was a really solid game,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Saturday’s trip finale. “Just look at this whole road trip. Take away maybe that first period in Anaheim, and we’ve played pretty well. We just didn’t get the results.
“I thought we played pretty well in L.A. and today was really solid. The first two periods were as good as you’re going to get from us – we didn’t give them anything. We had a couple of chances. I thought it was a really well played game; both teams had a lot of push.
“And in the third, obviously they had a push and we handled it pretty well. I just thought it was a pretty complete team effort. The last seven or eight periods, we’ve played pretty well. We just didn’t get the result we wanted in all three games here.”
The Caps have now scored just 15 goals in their last three trips to California, covering nine games and going 2-6-1 in the process. The Caps have scored more than two goals only once in their last nine games in the Golden State.
Saturday’s victory in San Jose was the Capitals’ first regulation win on the road over the Sharks since Oct. 30, 1993.
Road Zeroes – Grubauer earned his first road shutout in the NHL earlier this season, but unfortunately did not claim victory that night as the Caps came out on the wrong end of a 1-0 shootout decision against the Rangers in New York on Dec. 27.
Saturday’s shutout win over the Sharks in San Jose is not only Grubauer’s first career road shutout win, it’s the first road shutout win by a Capitals goalie other than Braden Holtby since Tomas Vokoun blanked the Habs 3-0 in Montreal on Feb. 4, 2012.
Grubauer saw half of his 24-save workload in the first, but made critical stops on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon in the third to maintain the Caps’ slim 1-0 lead at the time. Seeing some shots early is usually preferable for most goaltenders, as long as it doesn’t turn into a shooting gallery.
“Yeah, for sure,” agrees Grubauer. “It helps a lot to get into the game. It’s not that we want to give up – what did they have 12 shots [in the first] – every period but it helps me. It could have gone either way today. They had four or – I don’t know – five posts. It could have gone a different way, too. Lucky for us we got the two points.”
Between the shutouts from Vokoun in 2012 and Grubauer in 2018, Holtby recorded each of Washington’s last 10 whitewashes on the road.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Grubauer started the 2017-18 season with a 0-4-2 record, a 4.10 GAA and an .876 save pct. in his first six road starts. He is now 4-1-1 with two shutouts, a 1.49 GAA and a .954 save pct. in his last six starts on the road.
Triple Threat – All of Washington’s offense in Saturday’s game came from the middle of the ice as Backstrom scored the game-winner and Eller added an empty-netter late. Backstrom’s goal was his 17
th of the season, and Eller’s was his 15
Combined with Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has 20 goals, the Caps have three centers with 15 or more goals for the first time since 1992-93 when Mike Ridley (26), Michal Pivonka (21) and Dale Hunter (20) each exceeded 15 goals. Remarkably, that 1992-93 campaign was the
eighth consecutive season in which Washington had at least three pivots with 15 or more goals, this according to hockeyreference.com.
Century City – Eller’s goal was the 100
th of his NHL career, and it leaves him one goal shy of matching his single-season best of 16, established in 2011-12.
Climbing The Ladder – Backstrom’s game-winning goal on Saturday is the 32
nd of his NHL career, tying him with Mike Ridley for fifth place on Washington’s all-time franchise list. Backstrom now trails fellow Swede Bengt Gustafsson (33) by just one game-winner for fourth place on that list.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears absorbed a 3-0 blanking on the road on Saturday night, in Binghamton at the hands of the Devils. The Bears couldn’t generate any offensive support for goaltender Vitek Vanecek (9-8-2), who stopped 30 of 32 he faced before the Devils added a late empty-netter.
The 25-28-4-5 Bears are occupying the cellar of the eight-team Atlantic Division. They’ll be back in action on Sunday when they host the Grand Rapids Griffins at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays walloped the Atlanta Gladiators 5-0 on Saturday night at North Charleston Coliseum. Joe Devin scored what would prove to be the game-winner at 5:47 of the first and the Stingrays added four goals in just over a dozen minutes in the third, sandwiching single markers by Steven Whitney and Tad Kozun around a pair from Nick Roberto in the final frame.
The offensive display helped Parker Milner (31 saves) record his third shutout and 21
st victory (21-5-3) of the season.
The 38-13-6-1 Stingrays host the Jacksonville Icemen on Sunday afternoon. They maintain their hold on second place in the league’s Atlantic Division.
By The Numbers – Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with 24:22 in ice time on Saturday … Chandler Stephenson led all Caps – even the defensemen – with 2:27 in shorthanded ice time. His shorthanded workload increased because Tom Wilson took both of the Caps’ minor penalties in the game, but Stephenson handled it with aplomb … Brooks Orpik led the Caps with five hits … John Carlson led the Caps with three blocked shots … Lars Eller won six of seven draws (86%), Jay Beagle won six of nine (67%) and Stephenson won eight of 13 (62%).