NEW YORK – A three-goal outburst in the third period and an impressive outing for rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer paved the way for the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Rangers Sunday night.
Five thoughts on the win at Madison Square Garden.
1. Grabovski’s penalty shot: The Capitals had a few opportunities to build on a two-goal lead in the second period – shorthanded chances by Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, a spin-o-rama backhander by Alex Ovechkin – but they couldn’t find a way to put the puck past Henrik Lundqvist. Then New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh hooked Mikhail Grabovski on a breakaway and gave the veteran center a penalty shot.
“To tell the truth,” Grabovski said. “I didn’t think it was going to be shootout, like penalty shot.”
Grabovski picked up the puck at center ice and turned straight down the slot. When he reached the hash marks, Grabovksi didn’t deke or stickhandle at all, but he blasted a wicked slap shot from close range past Lundqvist’s glove. It’s not the type of attempt you see most often, but it speaks a lot to Grabovski’s gumption and confidence. The Rangers netminder never had a chance.
“Today just kind of decided right away to shoot,” Grabovski said of the move that made it 3-0 with 1:34 left in the second period. “Because if you know one-timer, it’s going to be right away in your head. He kind of pretty good goalie to move side to side; it’s very hard to score — you just need to shoot.”
The penalty shot was just the fourth of Grabovski’s career and the first that he scored on, but he is 3 for 7 in shootouts this season. Asked about Grabovski’s decision to wind up with a full-force slap shot from 10 feet out, Coach Adam Oates broke into a wide grin and started laughing.
“What do you want me to say?” Oates said. “It takes a lot of guts to pull that off. Hey, good for him.”
On the bench, Grabovski’s teammates were both impressed and caught off-guard.
“We’re laughing because it takes a lot of courage to just come down and wind up for a slap shot,” Karl Alzner said. “It’s a great play; why not use the hardest shot in the arsenal on a breakaway like that? That was kind of a momentum booster and spirit lifter for us.”
Said Jason Chimera: “Awesome. We thought he was going to fake it again and go five-hole. It’s one of those things, you’ve seen it before him score like that on [shootouts] it was pretty good … You go ‘Holy smokes. I didn’t know the little guy had it in him’.”
Here’s the video from the initial breakaway attempt all through the penalty shot.
2. Critical goal: Grabovski’s goal wasn’t simply stunning in its brute force, but it was a demoralizing dagger to the Rangers and the crowd at Madison Square Garden, which was quieter than any Capitals visit in recent memory. Once he ripped the shot cleanly past Lundqvist, who didn’t have time to react other than to shake his head, Washington’s lead seemed less tenuous and more a truly significant advantage.
“Grabo’s penalty shot made a big difference. We had a few breakaways there, we didn’t get it and I was starting to wonder like, ‘Oh no, here we go again,’” Oates said. “Then the penalty shot was big, made 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. And you know what? We haven’t had that luxury, so we enjoyed it.”
3. Oleksy returns: After sitting out seven consecutive games as a healthy scratch, Steve Oleksy was back in the lineup Sunday night in New York making his first appearance since Nov. 20 against Pittsburgh. He skated 21 shifts for a total of 16:57, and despite a few questionable moments during which he struggled to maintain control of the puck, the 27-year-old blueliner made a solid return.
Oleksy continued Washington’s weekend of getting goals from defensemen when he fired a shot from the point through a screen with Aaron Volpatti in front to make it 2-0 with 2:53 gone in the first. With his goal Oleksy became the third defenseman to record their first goal of the year this weekend after Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt did so on Saturday against Nashville.
“It’s a good feeling and obviously being out for a while there’s some things you’ve got to clean up to get that game feeling back and things like that,” Oleksy said. “But it was great to be back in and hopefully I can do what I can to stick in the lineup and build from that.”
4. Quick goals redux. The second period offered a reversal of what usually happens after the Capitals score a goal this season as well. Oleksy’s tally came just 25 seconds after Chimera’s as Washington finally found itself on the opposite side of a quick goal scenario. Amazing how that served to build momentum in the early stages of the contest isn’t it?
Granted, Washington’s favorite bad habit did make an appearance. In garbage time in the third period, Benoit Pouliot scored just 64 seconds after Eric Fehr tipped a shot past Lundqvist. It’s the 14th time this season the Capitals have given up a goal in the first two minutes after scoring.
5. Fourth line. When the Capitals are able roll four lines and keep their fourth unit involved, it generally benefits their desire to gain territory and grind away at an opponent. While neither Jay Beagle, Aaron Volpatti nor Tom Wilson played over 8:34 against the Rangers Sunday night the line had plenty of jump in the early going and helped tilt the ice in Washington’s favor in the first period as the visitors worked to find their legs. Beagle had a chance on a breakaway down the wing in the first period and later earned an assist on Oleksy’s goal, which was made possible by Volpatti providing a screen that prevented Lundqvist from even seeing the shot.
“They’re big guys, physical, they skate good, they complement each other they’re growing with confidence,” Oates said. “Willy is still so young, Beags is young in experience in this league — they’re playing better and better, and as a coach, it’s a great feeling to put them on at any time against anybody.”