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Caps, Grubauer Overpower Canes

December 21, 2013

Philipp Grubauer’s 39-save performance in goal combined with three Caps power play goals in the second period enabled Washington to forge a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Friday night. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in the game’s waning seconds, the 400th goal of his NHL career.


Washington scuffled its way through the first period, but was able to get to the intermission down just a goal at 1-0. Carolina had many strong scoring chances early in the game, with several of those bid coming from prime scoring area in the middle of the ice. The Hurricanes were also able to exploit the Caps’ blueliners throughout the evening, making strong stretch passes to spring forwards behind the Washington defense.


“Five-on-five, we were all over them,” laments Hurricanes center Jordan Staal. “We were the better team five-on-five, but three power play goals [against], you can’t let that happen. That’s not good enough obviously and that’s how you lose games.”


Grubauer was able to keep the Caps within a goal in the game’s first 20 minutes; he was nicked only by Jordan Staal’s shot from the right circle with 2:48 remaining in the period. Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk started the play in his own end after Staal bested Caps center Nicklas Backstrom on a neutral zone face-off. Faulk passed the puck up the right wing wall, and ex-Caps winger Alexander Semin made a deft touch pass to get it to Staal as he gained the Washington line. Staal’s wrist shot eluded Grubauer to make it a 1-0 game.


Washington had one power play early in the first when Eric Staal went off for interference. Ovechkin drew a hi-sticking call on Eric Staal with just 19.9 seconds left in the first frame, giving the Caps 1:41 worth of power play time with which to start the second period.


Carolina owned a 26-13 advantage in shot attempts in the first frame, and they would more or less maintain that ratio throughout the night.


“It was good,” says Grubauer of the heavy workload early in the game. “It got me into the game. It looked like we were a little bit flat coming out in the first, but if there are breakdowns I am supposed to make the save. That’s my job.”


The Caps made good on that carryover power play time. Forty-one seconds into the second period, Caps forward Marcus Johansson jimmied the puck past Carolina goaltender Cam Ward at the right post to make it a 1-1 game. After Ward was unable to glove Backstrom’s wrist shot from the right circle, Johansson’s second and third efforts enabled him to light the lamp before Ward was able to cover up the puck and gain a whistle.


Washington winger Joel Ward drew a holding call on Canes forward Tuomo Ruutu at 8:19 of the second, and the Capitals needed just 15 seconds of man advantage time to take a 3-2 lead. Backstrom won the offensive zone draw, and then put the puck on a tee for Caps defenseman John Carlson. Carlson’s one-timer made its way through traffic in front and into the net to give Washington its first lead of the night at 2-1.


Less than three minutes later, Carolina rebounded with a power play goal of its own to make it a 2-2 game. While Caps defenseman Karl Alzner was serving a sentence for shooting the puck over the glass in his own end of the ice, Carolina defenseman Andrej Sekera got a shot through from the blueline. Grubauer made the save, but Hurricanes forward Riley Nash had worked his way behind the Washington defense, and he was able to collect the rebound and easily tap it into the net.


Semin hauled down Washington defenseman Mike Green to earn a tripping call at 14:11 of the second period, and the Capitals’ extra-man unit went to work again. Backstrom set up Green for a one-timer from center point, a shot that broke Green’s stick in half. The velocity of the shot was greatly diminished as a result, and Washington winger Troy Brouwer was able to deflect it from his position in the slot. Johansson was parked directly in front of Ward, and the puck squeezed past the Carolina goaltender to give the Caps a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.


“When it comes slower,” says Brouwer, “obviously I get a better touch on it. I have a stick out with my body thinking it was going to be a higher shot because that’s where he usually likes to shoot. It’s almost a weird adjustment that you don’t ever practice, having to put your stick back down on the ice for a broken stick.”

Carolina stormed the Caps in the third, firing 33 pucks to just 12 for Washington. But only 13 of those 33 Carolina shots were on goal, and Grubauer had the answer for all of them. The Hurricanes had 16 consecutive shot attempts in a span of just 6:08 late in the third, but just six seconds after the last of those shot tries, Ovechkin fired the first Washington shot in more than six and a half minutes into the vacant Carolina net to account for the 4-2 final.


The Canes had two power play chances in the third, including a Carlson hooking call with just 4:50 left. With their most frequently used penalty killing defenseman in the box, the Capitals managed a key kill to gnaw away almost half of the time remaining in the game at that point.


By night’s end, 11 of Grubauer’s 39 saves were on the power play. Many others came in one-on-one situations or on shots from the center of the ice.


“They’re a fast team,” says Grubauer of the Hurricanes. “And there are always one or two guys at the blueline just waiting for a breakaway and waiting for one of those chip plays to pass our [defense] and they got a couple of good ones in the first period.”

Washington’s power play connected for the fifth straight game, and the Caps netted multiple power-play goals in a game for the 10th time in 35 games this season.


“I think we did really good on the power play,” says Backstrom. “That was the key to this win, I think. And especially Grubi behind there; he made some good saves back there and that’s exactly what we needed. The power play and Grubi for sure. We’ve still got some work to do five-on-five.”


The Capitals are now 7-2-1 when they score more than one power play goal in a game.


“They’ve got a potent power play and obviously it was a big difference tonight,” says Carolina coach Kirk Muller. “They’ve been good all year. We said we want to keep our discipline and stay out of the box, and they made us pay for it. We had our opportunities too, we just fell short in trying it up.”


Milestone Night – Ovechkin’s 400th NHL goal came in his 634th career NHL game, making him the sixth fastest player to the 400-goal milestone in NHL history. Only Wayne Gretzky (436 games), Mike Bossy (506), Mario Lemieux (508), Brett Hull (520) and Jari Kurri (608) got to 400 faster than Ovechkin. All five are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.


“It’s a big number and being in this kind of company is a tremendous honor for me,” says Ovechkin. “I never felt like I would be in this position when I started playing in the NHL, of course I wanted to be. Thanks to everybody; my coaches, my partners. Without them I can’t reach these numbers.”


The 28-year-old Ovechkin is the seventh youngest player to get to 400 goals in league history. Dating back to last season, Ovechkin has scored 52 goals in his last 56 regular season games.


“It’s fun,” says Backstrom of his linemate’s milestone. “As we all know, he is a pretty good goal scorer. It’s always fun to see a player accomplish something big. I think 400 goals in however many games he has, it’s great. We all know he’s a great player and good for him.”


With his assist on Johansson’s goal in the second period, Ovechkin recorded his 375th career assist, tying him with Dale Hunter for third place on the Capitals’ all-time list in helpers. Only Michal Pivonka (418) and Mike Gartner (392) have registered more assists in a Capitals sweater than Ovechkin.


Helping Hands – Backstrom had three or more assists in a game for the fifth time this season, doing so in Washington’s 35th game of the season.


Prior to this season, Backstrom’s previous five games with three or more assists were achieved over a span of 94 games dating back to late in the 2010-11 season.


Dating back to last season, Backstrom now has recorded 54 assists in his last 56 regular season games. With 33 assists in 35 games this season, Backstrom leads the NHL in helpers.


Net Gain – Grubauer ran his record on the season to 4-0-1 with his win on Friday against Carolina. He has a 2.05 GAA and a .940 save pct. in six appearances (four starts).


“He made big saves,” says Muller. “You get 40-plus shots, we had quality opportunities. We had breakaways and shots in close and we had chances to score. He did the job and he got the job done.”


Grubauer has faced 184 shots in 322 minutes of work this season, and he is now just 80 minutes away from matching Michal Neuvirth’s goaltending workload thus far in the 2013-14 campaign.


“Especially at the beginning of the first period and that breakaway,” says Brouwer of Grubauer, “and they had a few other point blank chances. He’s gained our confidence absolutely in the last few weeks that he’s been here. He looks like he’s making a break for the No. 1 spot, which is a good battle to have back there as goalies are playing well. Ultimately he gave us a chance to win tonight and pretty much got us a win tonight.”


Multiple Man – With a goal and an assist, Brouwer notched his first multiple-point game of the 2013-14 season and his first since he had a two-goal game against the Canadiens in Montreal on April 20.


Second Helpings – The Caps’ three-goal power play outburst in the second period marked the third time this season that Washington has had three extra-man tallies in the same period this season.


The Capitals netted three power-play goals in a span of 12:57 in the second period of a 6-2 victory over the New York Islanders at Verizon Center on Nov. 5. Washington tallied three times with the extra man in a span of 12:24 during the second period of its 6-5 shootout triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 10.


In Friday’s game against the Hurricanes, the Caps’ three power play goals came on successive man-advantage opportunities over a span of 14:48, again in the middle frame.


Man Down – Johansson did not play at all after Brouwer’s power play goal late in the second period. He finished the night with 10:58 in ice time, well below his nightly average of 18:10.


“Lower body, he is going to get evaluated in the morning,” says Oates of Johansson’s absence. “I’m not quite sure about [Saturday against New Jersey], but hopefully.”


Down On The Farm – The ECHL Reading Royals were on the road in Fort Wayne taking on the Komets on Friday night.


The Royals got goals from five different skaters and a 27-save performance from Riley Gill in the Reading nets to cruise to a 5-1 win over the Komets.


Louie Caporusso, Michal Cajkovsky, Matt Campanale, Domenic Monardo and Dustin Gazley scored to power the Royals to a 5-0 lead. Gill’s shutout bid went by the wayside midway through the third, but the Royals grabbed a much needed win, halting a 0-4-1 skid.


The 11-9-1 Royals are second in the ECHL’s Atlantic Division, eight points behind front-running Wheeling. The Royals will remain in Fort Wayne to go up against the Komets again on Saturday night.


By The Numbers – Carlson led the Caps with 22:13 in ice time … Backstrom, Ovechkin and Eric Fehr led the Capitals with five shots on net each … Alzner, John Erskine and Steve Oleksy led the way for Washington with four blocked shots each … Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with five hits on the night … Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Semin each had six shots on goal for Carolina … The Hurricanes’ top six forwards combined to account for 27 of the team’s 41 shots on goal and for 57 of its 86 shot attempts on the night … Jay Harrison led the Hurricanes with seven hits.