By Bill Sands
If you didn’t watch tonight’s game, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a game between the Capitals and New York Rangers ended 1-0. Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist are two of the league’s best goalies and both are capable of pitching shutouts on any given night. What might surprise you, however, is the fact that neither of them suited up; instead it was Philipp Grubauer and Ondrej Pavelec who put their goaltending skills on display.
Whether it was rust from the holiday break or two familiar enemies knowing each other too well, there wasn’t much going on for the majority of the night. The Caps’ struggles to provide Grubauer with offensive support have been a common refrain this year, and nothing changed tonight. Despite playing well and making 37 saves, Grubauer again came up empty because the team in front of him couldn’t finish.
Especially problematic was the Caps’ inability to win faceoffs. New York dominated the category, 32-19, meaning that Washington spent most of the night chasing the play. When the Caps finally did get control and break through the Rangers’ D, Pavelec was there to shut the door. Pavelec posted 30 saves on the night and was only forced to make a few challenging saves. In the shootout, he stopped Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie to seal the win for New York.
A tie game in the third period between two division rivals may seem like an exciting affair, but in keeping with the theme of the night, things were not as they seemed. The Rangers took advantage of an early Matt Niskanen penalty and generated several prime scoring chances, but Grubauer stood tall and kept New York off the board. The rest of the period passed uneventfully, with both teams trading shots from the outside that never caused much concern. Grubauer made a few key stops in the second half of the period, while the Caps failed to threaten in New York’s zone.
Getting shutout by a backup is never fun, but at the end of the day the Caps earned a point on the road against a good division rival. They also denied the Rangers a regulation win, which could come in handy if there’s a tie in the standings at the end of the year (and given how tight the race for the Metropolitan division is, that’s a very real possibility). The Caps will need to regroup quickly with a date against Boston tomorrow night, where they can hopefully get back in the win column and continue their strong month of December.