NEW YORK — Sixty-seven shots in 65 minutes couldn’t get it done, so it was fitting that the game had to be decided in a shootout, all attention on the goaltenders.
The 68th shot finally got past Washington’s Philipp Grubauer. New York’s Ondrej Pavelec saved T.J. Oshie’s shot, and then Mika Zibanejad scored on Grubauer. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin missed the net, and that settled that, a 1-0 win for the Rangers.
It was a cruel end for Grubauer, who had made a whopping 37 saves, gifting the Capitals with a standings point two days after Christmas. It was perhaps a deserved result for Washington, a third straight loss and second straight game held off the scoreboard.
“Grubi gave us every save possible,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “And then we weren’t able to get him a goal. . . . You’ve got to get into the interior, you’ve got to have some finish, you’ve got to hit the net, you’ve got to have a little bit more traffic. When you’re not scoring, let’s not get too fine. We’re looking for tap-ins. It’s not there. Teams are too good.”
Games between New York and Washington have often featured goaltending duels, but this wasn’t the typical marquee matchup between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Both teams opted to start backup netminders in the first game out of the Christmas break, and both Grubauer and Pavelec starred. The Rangers wanted Lundqvist to get some extra rest at the season’s midpoint, and with Washington hosting the Boston Bruins on Thursday, Grubauer got the first game of the back-to-back set with Holtby scheduled to play the second.
As their teammates knocked the rust off from a three-day break, the goaltenders were sharp. The Rangers opened the game with six shots in the first four minutes, and Grubauer bought the Capitals time to find their legs. Not including Wednesday’s outing, Grubauer has a .947 save percentage over his past four appearances in net, stopping 90 of 95 shots and rebounding well from the start to the season, when he had an .847 save percentage in eight losses.
“He was our best player out there,” Ovechkin said.
“Yeah, it was okay,” Grubauer said. “I think I’ve got to do a better job in the shootout there.”
In a sequence to start the third period, Grubauer saved a whopping eight shots in the first four minutes to keep the game scoreless, splitting every which way to bail out a Capitals team that couldn’t get out of its own end. With 11:19 left in regulation, Grubauer robbed Rick Nash on a shot 13 feet in front of the net after a Lars Eller turnover. When Zibanejad tried to score on the rebound, Grubauer pushed the puck over the net. He skated away from the crease during the stoppage that followed, and it felt like an abbreviated victory lap after how well he’d played.
The Rangers had 14 shots through the first 10 minutes of the third period.
“The third period, we stunk,” Trotz said. “The only reason we got a point was Grubauer.”
The power play has especially struggled of late. Washington entered Wednesday night without a goal on the man advantage in its previous four games, and in its two opportunities in the second period, the Capitals managed three shots. That has Washington with just one power-play goal in its past 22 opportunities over nine games, surprising considering the personnel. Its 19.1 percentage was ranked 18th in the league entering the game.
The Capitals also lamented not doing enough to test Pavelec at five-on-five and make him really earn the shutout. Washington’s best chance was a John Carlson wraparound that took an unlucky ping off the goal post, going through the crease rather than across the goal line.
“We had a couple good chances, but I think the whole game, he sees the shot,” Ovechkin said. “There was no traffic. When we have opportunity to shoot the puck, we try to make the play. Sometimes, if you have one chance you have to use it and put it in. We didn’t and we don’t execute.”
With the Capitals and Rangers each getting a standings point because the game went to overtime, all seven Metropolitan Division teams who played Wednesday night got at least one point. The Capitals are tied for second with 47 points, and the top five teams are separated by five points. Madison Square Garden on this night was a display of just how close the competition is.
“[Grubauer] deserves a hell of a lot more than what his record is this year,” Carlson said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a tight division and we’ve got to take the point when they’re there.”
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