Twenty minutes of great hockey and 60 minutes of excellence from goaltender Philipp Grubauer proved to be a winning formula for the Capitals on Monday night's 4-2 win over the Rangers in New York. The Caps roared into the game with four goals in the first frame and spent most of the remainder of the night defending, with Grubauer delivering several key stops as the last line of Washington's defense.
"We talked about this road trip," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We've had really terrible starts. We put a lot of emphasis on the first period, obviously. We were able to get their goaltender out, and obviously built a lead. We stopped playing and competing.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | March 26
"You know the Rangers have got a lot of pride, a lot of good players over there and you knew they were going to have a push back in the second. They came at us and got a little bit wide open on scoring chances on both ends and in the third we didn't make a push on the offense. Grubi was really good, especially in the second and obviously played great the rest of the way."
Washington went shorthanded in the game's first minute when Evgeny Kuznetsov was sent off for slashing, but that was virtually the only adversity the Caps faced in the game's first 20 minutes.
Seconds after Kuznetsov's exit from the sin bin, the Caps forged a 1-0 lead on T.J. Oshie's rush goal, a shot from the right dot that beat rookie Rangers goalie Alexander Georgiev at 2:50 of the first, staking the visitors to a 1-0 lead.
Video: WSH@NYR: Oshie beats Georgiev with nice wrist shot
Oshie's goal was the start of a scoring onslaught in which Washington scored four times in a span of 13 minutes and 49 seconds of the first period, chasing Georgiev to the bench after the first three of those goals.
Matt Niskanen netted the Caps' second goal of the game, taking a rather remarkable backhanded feed from Kuznetsov from the top of the New York zone to just above the goal line and just off the right post. From there, Niskanen had just enough time and space to pick a corner and put it right there, short side, upstairs. Niskanen's goal made it a 2-0 game at 5:13 of the first.
Video: WSH@NYR: Niskanen shows patience on top-shelf shot
"Kuzy made a heck of a play," recounts Niskanen. "I almost had too much time, I didn't know what to do."
Washington went on the power play shortly thereafter, and Alex Ovechkin chased Georgiev with a typical one-time blast from his left dot office, extending the Washington lead to 3-0 at 8:54 with his 45th goal of the season. Georgiev retired for the night having allowed three goals on just six shots.
Video: WSH@NYR: Ovechkin pots his 45th goal of the season
Ondrej Pavelec came on in relief for the Rangers, and Kuznetsov baptized him with a shorthanded goal at 16:39, jimmying the rebound of an Alex Chiasson shot into the net for Washington's second two-on-none goal of its three-game road trip.
Video: WSH@NYR: Kuznetsov taps home SHG off the rush
Grubauer established his excellence early and maintained it throughout the night, as the Rangers pushed back hard over the game's final 40 minutes. The Caps goaltender, who won his career best 14th game on Monday, stopped Kevin Hayes on the doorstep on that early New York power play when the game was still scoreless, and he also made strong stops on Jesper Fast and Jimmy Vesey later in the first.
Video: WSH@NYR: Grubauer sprawls to deny McLeod with skate
Perhaps his best stop of the night came late in the second when he denied Cody McLeod on the doorstep from the top of the paint, using his right pad to do so.
"Grubi has been outstanding for a while now, he always is," says Oshie, "it's just that right now we're seeing a bigger sample size. He has been our MVP I think over the last month and a half here, and that's great. It's not great that we made him make so many great saves tonight. That's something that we've got to clean up, the guys in here. You could tell we weren't all pumped up [after the game]. We realize that we won a period, and that was about it, and Grubi won the other ones for us."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | March 26
By the time Rangers rookie Lias Andersson beat Grubauer to make it a 4-1 game at 13:16 of the second, the Caps goaltender had amassed a streak of 109 minutes and 39 seconds of shutout hockey at Madison Square Garden, a run that covers parts of three appearances.
Andersson's goal came in his first NHL game, a day after the 2017 first-rounder (seventh overall) was recalled from the Rangers' AHL Hartford affiliate. New York also recalled its other first-rounder from 2017, Filip Chytil, and he notched his first career NHL point on the Rangers' second goal of the game, a Mats Zuccarello goal at 4:26 of the third.
Video: Caps 365 | March 26
Each of New York's first-round, teenaged centers earned their first NHL points in Monday's game, and there was certainly no quit in the Rangers after their dismal first period. The Rangers had the better of play over the final 40 minutes of the game, hemming the Caps in their own end for extended periods as they did on the Zuccarello goal.
"They played well," says Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. "It was a tough start for our team there. It was sort of a perfect storm for them, but everybody stuck in there. We battled hard; we tried to come back. If you take away those first few minutes, our five-on-five game was good, we had some good [offensive] zone time.
"They're a good team, a skilled team, they obviously had some good looks. Both kids had a good game. It was an emotional day and an emotional game for them, but I thought they played well."
Video: Ovechkin, Grubauer lead Capitals past Rangers, 4-2
New York had a late power play chance with which to shorten the Caps' lead even further, but the Washington penalty killing outfit was able to get the job done for the fourth time in as many missions.
The two teams play again back in D.C. on Wednesday.