For the third time since the start of November, the Washington Capitals have swept a set of back-to-back games. The Caps conquered the Rangers in Manhattan on Sunday night, 4-1. Coupled with Saturday’s 5-2 home ice win over Nashville, the Caps have swept sets of back-to-back games on consecutive weekends and have now won four of their last five games.
Making his second NHL start and his first of the 2013-14 season, goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced to pick up the first victory of his NHL career.
“I’ve got to give those guys in front of me a lot of credit,” says Grubauer. “I feel like [the Rangers] didn’t have many chances right in front of the net. They kept them pretty much to the outside, which was great for me. I’ve got to work on not giving up those rebounds, but they did a really great job.”
The first period was scoreless, and it was also penalty free until New York’s Chris Kreider went off for interference at 17:42. The Caps weren’t able to score on the ensuing power play, but they seemed to slightly tilt the territorial tide in their favor in the waning minutes of the first frame.
Coming into Sunday’s game, New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had blanked Washington for 180 consecutive minutes, a stretch that included the final two playoff games between the Capitals and Rangers from last spring. Early in the second period, Washington finally broke Lundqvist’s lengthy shutout spell.
Steve Oleksy’s shot from the right point was blocked in front, but it rebounded right to Caps forward Martin Erat near the top of the crease. Erat shot, and Lundqvist made the stop, but the rebound of that bid came right to Jason Chimera who tapped it into a wide open net for a 1-0 Washington lead at 2:28 of the second, ending Lundqvist’s spell of whitewash mastery over Washington at 202 minutes and 28 seconds.
“[Lundqvist is] one of those guys who is unbelievable at reading pucks off sticks,” says Chimera. “He knows where guys are shooting. He reads pucks really well. Those are the kind of goals you’ve got to get on him; things he doesn’t see and traffic in front where you just kind of whack away and score those kind of goals. It was nice to get one.”
The Caps required just a tiny fraction of that time to beat Lundqvist again, less than half a minute, in fact.
Jay Beagle threw the puck from the left corner out to Oleksy at the right point, and the Caps defenseman floated a shot through traffic that eluded Lundqvist high to the glove side. With two goals in 25 seconds, the Caps had all the offense they would need on this night.
“Anytime you can get a two-goal lead,” says Oleksy, “especially that quick, it kind of deflates the other team and it gives us fuel. I think that was important for us to build off of, and I think we did great and then to get that third one there in the second [period] as well.”
With the Caps owning that 2-0 lead late in the third and the two teams playing four-on-four hockey, Caps winger Troy Brouwer was able to spring center Mikhail Grabovski on a breakaway. Lundqvist denied the Caps’ center, but Blueshirts’ blueliner Ryan McDonagh hooked Grabovski from behind, and the Caps were able to enjoy a brief stretch of time with an extra skater before the Rangers touched the puck. When New York finally did so, Grabovski was awarded a penalty shot and a chance to really put the Rangers in a hole heading into the third.
The crafty center skated in to the hash marks, wound up and blasted a bullet of a slapshot that blew past Lundqvist to give the Caps a 3-0 lead with just 1:34 remaining in the middle stanza.
“It takes a lot of guts to pull that off,” notes Caps coach Adam Oates, of the slapper from in tight on the penalty shot. “And he did, good for him.”
Late in the third period, Eric Fehr deflected a Nate Schmidt shot past Lundqvist to make it a 4-0 game. The only drama remaining at that point revolved around Grubauer’s shutout bid. That went by the wayside at 18:07 of the third when Benoit Pouliot tipped a Michael Del Zotto drive past Grubauer for New York’s only goal of the game.
“You get the lead, it obviously makes it a lot easier,” says Oates. “We broke the ice first, we got the goal, it gives us a little confidence. And we kept making good decisions with the puck, kept putting it in the right place. It gave us a chance to have another wave and sooner or later we broke them down.
“Obviously Grabo’s penalty shot made a big difference. We had a few breakaways there, we didn’t [score]. And I was starting to wonder, like ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ The penalty shot was big to make it 3-0 and we got through the second period that way. We did a really good job early in the third to stifle them, and the place was kind of quiet which is always a good feeling on the road. We haven’t had that luxury. So we enjoyed it.”
With the win, Washington established a bit of breathing room in the Metropolitan Division standings. The second-place Capitals have pulled three points ahead of Carolina and the Rangers.
Road Warriors – Since returning home in late October from a four-game trip out west, the Caps haven’t played many road games. Eleven of the Caps’ last 18 games have been played on home ice, and Washington has had its last seven road games spread out over six separate trips in the last 38 days.
With Sunday’s win, the Capitals move to 6-5-2 on the road this season. They’ve gone 4-1-2 away from Verizon Center since the start of November.
Sixty Is Enough – This weekend marks the first time this season the Capitals have won consecutive games in regulation time. Washington had two straight wins over Edmonton and Columbus come in regulation time in mid-October, but those victories were sandwiched around a 2-0 loss to the Rangers.
The Caps have had a four-game winning streak and a couple of three-game winning run, but until this weekend they had not claimed regulation wins in consecutive games on the schedule. Prior to this weekend, Washington had just one regulation win in its previous 13 games, covering 31 days on the calendar.
Good In Goal – Grubauer’s start was his first in almost exactly nine months; his first game against the Islanders in New York on March 9. Although he allowed five goals in that game, he faced 45 shots and permitted only two tallies at even strength.
The 22-year-old netminder admitted to some nerves when it was all over.
“I found out after the game on Saturday,” says Grubauer of his starting assignment. “I was really excited. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous; it’s the biggest stage here, Madison Square Garden. It’s the most historical building. I had a lot of fun.”
In a small sample size of two starts and two relief appearances, Grubauer is now 1-1 with a 2.20 GAA and a .939 save pct. for his NHL career. He joins Thomas Greiss (currently of the Phoenix Coyotes) as just the second German-born goaltender ever to record a victory in the NHL.
“He played fantastic,” says Schmidt of Grubauer. “He just pretty much swallowed up every shot they had, they didn’t really have second-chance opportunities and that’s a huge thing for a goaltender coming in, especially in a road game. Just swallow up as many shots as you can.”
Ranger Killers – It should come as no surprise that Chimera was the guy who finally solved Lundqvist. He has scored six Stanley Cup playoff goals against the New York netminder since joining the Caps in a Dec. 28, 2009 swap with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Chimera’s goal gives him 18 points on the season and places him fifth among all Caps’ skaters in scoring.
Oleksy slid back into the Washington lineup after seven straight games as a healthy scratch and he scored his first goal of the season and first since last March a mere 25 seconds after Chimera’s goal.
Oleksy added a helper on the Chimera goal for his first multiple-point game of the season and the third of his NHL career. He now has four points (one goal, three assists) in his last four games. Oleksy’s goal in Sunday’s game was the second of his NHL career; the first was also scored against the Rangers on March 10 at Verizon Center.
Penalty Shot – Grabovski’s penalty shot goal was the first for the Capitals since Alexander Semin scored on the Canadiens’ Peter Budaj in Montreal on Feb. 4, 2012.
Semin’s goal was the last in a run of six straight successful penalty shots for the Capitals, a streak that started when Alex Ovechkin scored on Philadelphia’s Ray Emery on Jan. 17, 2010. That streak of success doubled the team’s previous best string of penalty successes.
For Grabovski, Sunday night’s penalty shot was the third of his NHL career (397 games) and the first one in which he was successful.
Offense From The Defense – With Oleksy’s goal in Sunday’s game, three Capitals defensemen have scored their first goal of the season in the team’s two games this weekend.
Karl Alzner and Schmidt both found the back of the net in the Caps’ win over the Predators at Verizon Center on Saturday night.
“I think we’re being a little bit more patient instead of just whipping pucks to the net blindly,” says Schmidt, “and we’re making sure we have guys in front. The forwards have been doing a lot better job of getting in front of the net because they’re trusting us more to get pucks through.”
Capitals’ defensemen have collected nine points (four goals, five assists) while being involved in eight of the team’s last 12 goals scored.
“We’ve been working hard at getting shots through,” says Oleksy. “Obviously it’s a great job by the forwards getting traffic and getting us the puck. I think that’s big and that’s the key to why we’re getting so many.”
Last season, Caps defensemen produced an average of 1.9 points per game. After a slow start, the team’s defense is now clicking at a rate of 1.67 points per game this season.
Shoot ‘Em Up – Sunday’s game marked just the eighth time in 30 games this season that Washington outshot its opponent (36-31). The Caps are now 5-2-1 this season in games in which they’ve ended the contest with more shots than their foe, and they are 5-0-1 in the last half dozen games in which they’ve done so.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Capitals with 23:57 of ice time … Carlson and Mike Green were the only two of Washington’s 18 skaters not to record a hit in Sunday’s game … Tom Wilson and Aaron Volpatti were the only two Caps who did not record a shot on goal in the game … New York’s Dan Girardi led all skaters on both sides with six hits.