Take one goal off the board, put one goal on the board, and put two points in the bank.
That's the formula the Caps deployed on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit to earn a 1-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the opener of a three-game road trip against Original Six opponents.
Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves to earn his third shutout of the season, all of them on the road. Grubauer was excellent from the outset, and because of his performance, Brett Connolly's third period goal on a two-on-none rush was enough for the Caps to get the win.
Video: Caps 365 | March 22
The game was not a riveting, entertaining affair as was the Caps' previous game, a 3-2 win over Dallas in the District on Tuesday. Grubauer and Detroit's Jimmy Howard were both dialed in, and high-grade scoring chances weren't plentiful for either side at even strength.
"I think the whole team played a really good game today," says Caps winger Jakub Vrana. "Grubi was outstanding today. He made some great saves. He kept us in the game."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | March 22
From the game's outset, Grubauer faced a steady diet of shots; the Wings put at least 11 pucks on him in each of the game's three periods. After the game, Grubauer typically downplayed his own efforts, and credited the guys playing in front of him.
"It was pretty good," says Grubauer. "The guys made it pretty easy. I saw the pucks all the way. [The Wings] are a hard team to play against. They played great with nothing to lose anymore."
The Red Wings had the better of the scoring chances and puck possession in the game, and Detroit actually lighted the lamp first when Andreas Athanasiou whipped a shot from the right circle past Grubauer at 10:47 of the first period. But Washington issued a coach's challenge, alleging that Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi had interfered with Grubauer; Bertuzzi had his back to the play and he bumped the Caps goalie up high just before the puck was delivered.
Video: WSH@DET: Grubauer makes 39 saves for 6th NHL shutout
Detroit had a glorious opportunity to take the lead again in the second period when the Caps were whistled for a pair of simultaneous minor penalties to T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller, putting the Caps down two men for a full two minutes, with two of their most frequently deployed penalty killing forwards in the box. Washington successfully navigated its way through the weeds, Grubauer making three more key stops. Nine of his 39 saves came while Detroit enjoyed a manpower advantage.
"The guys did an amazing job," says Grubauer. "They deflected the pucks upstairs and they didn't get too many shots. It was a great team effort overall."
Video: WSH@DET: Grubauer denies Athanasiou on a breakaway
Grubauer's most dazzling stop came early in the third, when the game was still scoreless. The speedy Athanasiou broke loose and skated in all alone on Grubauer. The winger made his move, but Grubauer didn't bite. He snapped his right pad out and thwarted the opportunity.
"This is too many times we haven't been able to score when we had a pretty good offense," laments Wings coach Jeff Blashill. "We obviously had a pretty good effort. I don't think we gave much up; I thought both teams were fairly good defensively and there weren't a ton of chances both ways. But we've got to find a way to score."
Connolly was the only guy in the game who was able to do so. He and linemates Travis Boyd and Jakub Vrana were the only Caps forward to come in under 10 minutes for the night, and they were also the line that delivered the game's only goal, with some help from a fortuitous bounce and good reads from Connolly and Vrana.
Video: WSH@DET: Connolly converts on two-on-none
As Detroit was working the puck around the perimeter of the Washington zone, Bertuzzi's intended pass for Dylan Larkin bounced off the latter's blade and slid toward center point. Wings defenseman Xavier Ouellet skated toward it, and both Connolly and Vrana sensed his vulnerability, aggressively closing on the defenseman. Vrana wrested the puck from Ouellet, sending the Caps off on easily the best scoring chance for either side in the game. With the right-shot Connolly driving the left side and the left-shooting Vrana riding shotgun, a give-and-go seemed likely. But once Vrana fed Connolly, it became a give-and-shoot, as Connolly snapped a shot past Howard's glove hand for his 15th goal of the season at 6:41 of the third.
It was Connolly's first goal in 17 games; his previous goal also came at Howard and the Wings' expense in a Feb. 11 game between the two teams in Washington.
Connolly was hungry, like a wolf.
"You know what? It's been a while since I've had a good look," says Connolly, asked if he thought about going back to Vrana with it. "It's been a few games. So I was going to try my hardest to put that one in. I was happy to put in in there. Maybe if we get another one, we'll do that. But I think I needed that one, for sure."
Video: Grubauer, Connolly lead Capitals to 1-0 win
Vrana admitted that he was expecting a return pass, but as a guy who endured his own lengthy goal drought earlier in the season, he was certainly understanding not to get one.
"I mean, you get a two-on-oh, you want to score, you know," says Vrana. "It was a great job by Conno, so that was huge."
Washington had a pair of power play chances after the Connolly goal, but was unable to add to its narrow advantage. No matter; Grubauer walled the Wings off for the remainder of the night, and the Caps were able to start a trip off with two big points.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | March 22
"He was the first star," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Grubauer. "He was the difference in the game. I thought Detroit had a really good game plan. They forced us into a lot of small spaces and they used their speed. We got some huge saves, a huge penalty kill - a five-on-three for two minutes. A lot goes on Grubi today, for sure."