Philipp Grubauer stopped 39 shots, including some key ones on a Detroit two man advantage in period two, and Brett Connolly took advantage of a Wings offensive blue line gaffe scoring on a 2 on 0 rush in period three to give the Caps a 1-0 victory in Motown on Thursday night.
The triumph improves Washington’s record to 43-24-7 (93 points) with eight games remaining. They lead second place Pittsburgh and Columbus by four points, although the Blue Jackets have played one more game. Coach John Tortorella’s team has won 10 straight contests.
Below are my thoughts and analysis on the Capitals sixth win in their last seven games.
You Got Lucky – Washington did not have many guys going in this one against an out of the playoffs squad in Detroit. They did not generate a lot of quality chances, but they capitalized on a real gift to score the game’s only goal. Jakub Vrana and Connolly broke in all alone on Jimmy Howard (25 saves) after a miscue by Detroit at their offensive blueline. Following #13’s pass to Connolly, Brett fired quickly over Howard’s shoulder 6:41 into the final frame. It was the former first round pick’s 15th tally this season, tying the career high he set in 2016-17.
Snapback – Grubauer gave up five goals on Sunday in Philadelphia, many of which weren’t his fault, but on Thursday night he returned to dominant form. Philipp stopped a clean breakaway by Andreas Athanasiou and also made three saves on the Wings full two minute five on three power play in period two. The German goaltender was very solid in the cage and didn’t allow many rebounds. Grubauer is now 12-9-3 this season and this was his third shutout of the campaign.
Caps Skater of the Night – with Evgeny Kuznetsov still out due to an upper body injury, Lars Eller has had to play a larger role as the second line center. In Motown he was the best Washington skater with six shots on goal, two hits, while going 8-4 on draws in 20:35 of action. Eller, Tom Wilson (5 hits), and T.J. Oshie were the Caps top forwards in this affair.
Key to the Game – When one team gets a five on three, especially for two minutes, it often is a sequence that decides the outcome of the game. Detroit received one at 12:24 of the second period when Eller was correctly called for high sticking and Oshie was incorrectly boxed for tripping. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen were on the ice for the first 1:42 of the penalty and along with forward Jay Beagle and then Nicklas Backstrom they collectively did a super job of keeping the Wings shots coming from the perimeter. The three shots Detroit put on Grubauer all came from 40 plus feet. That penalty kill was the key to the Caps having a chance to win this tilt in the final frame.
Overall, this was a sluggish game for the Caps, but they managed to knock off a weak Wings team that was missing former Cap, Mike Green, on the back end. Greenie is out for the rest of the season due to back surgery. It wasn’t pretty for Washington, but a win is a win, and the Capitals did just enough to earn two key points and move closer to a third straight Metropolitan Division title.
Notes: Detroit thought they had the 1st goal of the game in period one, but it was correctly overturned for goalie interference…Alex Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts in 23:01 of action. The Gr8 had four shots on goal and hit one post. Backstrom had three shot attempts in 22:36 of ice time…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 32-31…shot attempts were 70-48 for Detroit…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:31 and he had five shots on goal…Washington was 0 for 3 on the power play, but the Wings were 0 for 4…the Caps recalled goalie Phoenix Copley from Hershey and he backed up Grubauer. Braden Holtby is day to day with a lower body injury (some reports say he injured his knee late in the Dallas game on Tuesday)…Kuzy is on the trip and is “very close” to returning, per Coach Barry Trotz…because the Caps recalled Copley, they now have salary cap issues and will likely need to send someone to Hershey on Friday. Since Travis Boyd, Jakub Jerabek, and Vrana are able to be sent down without needing waivers, at least one of them will likely be moved to the AHL. Vrana is playing too well, so he’ll probably stay up and with Jerabek being the 7th D, he likely will stay up with the Caps, as well, so that leaves Boyd as the likely salary cap casualty until the Holtbeast is healthy enough to back up…Washington is in Montreal on Saturday night.