Washington finished a four-game homestand with a flourish on Friday, earning a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Capital One Arena. The Lightning entered the game with the league's best record, and it still has a better record after 22 games (16-4-2) than either the 2015-16 Caps (16-5-1) or the 2016-17 Capitals (13-7-2) had at the same stage of the season.
The Caps have now earned a point in each of their games (1-0-1) against the Lightning this season.
"They have a good team," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen of the Lightning. "They're really deep, and there's a lot of skill over there, guys that can really scoot. A good effort by our guys today. That was a nice win."
Prior to Friday's game, Caps coach Barry Trotz spoke of the importance of managing the puck and keeping it out of the hands of dangerous Lightning forwards such as Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, and the Caps performed that task well, for the most part. The lone Lightning goal was a power-play strike, a Kucherov shot that glanced off the upper body of Bolts winger Vladislav Namestnikov and into the cage.
"I think we were good with the puck," says Niskanen. "We didn't give them too many free looks off of turnovers. And we were attacking, so some of their best players probably spent a little more time defending than they wanted to. And then when they did get possession or they were coming up ice, I think we did a good job of just getting on top of people."
Video: Beagle, Grubauer lift Caps to 3-1 win against Bolts
Leading Men - Both teams scored in the first, the Lightning doing so in the second minute of the frame and the Caps squaring the score in the second to last minute of the period. Tampa Bay's first minute tally came on a power play, and it put Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer and his teammates down a goal in his first home start of the season.
Entering Friday's game, Grubauer had not had the simple luxury of playing with as much as a one-goal lead since the last game he started against the Lightning, back on Oct. 9 in Tampa. He had played 353 minutes and 11 seconds straight - a span that included five starts and part of a sixth, plus two relief efforts - without his team having more goals on the board than the opposition.
When Devante Smith-Pelly scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal late in the second period, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead at the time, Grubauer's streak of playing without a lead ended at 387 minutes and 47 seconds. He stopped every shot the rest of the way to maintain that lead and earn his first win of the season.
"It was huge," says Grubauer, of being able to look up at the board and see his team in the lead, after the Smith-Pelly strike. "I think he had a huge block a couple of seconds earlier, and then he went down and scored."
The Caps were happy to have finally helped Grubauer get that elusive first win, too.
"Yes, for sure," confirms Niskanen. "It's not an easy position to be the backup goalie, and he's kept a good attitude throughout this even though we haven't played well in front of him. I think everyone's smiles were a little bit bigger tonight for him, and he played really well, too."
Coming into Friday's start against the Lightning, Grubauer had received a total of five goals worth of offensive support spread over his previous four starts. But the Caps managed a goal a period against the Bolts, and it was enough.
"Every line has been buzzing," says Grubauer. "We put a bunch of good games together and for the most part, I think we're starting to figure it out. We learned a little bit from our mistakes, and you've got to go through a little bit of a rough patch to improve. We learn as a group, and it's going to make us stronger. So the next game [Saturday at Toronto] is going to be important for us."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | November 24
Climbing The Charts - Alex Ovechkin netted his 14th goal of the season, his second in as many games, and the 573rd goal of his NHL career in the first period of Friday's game. With that goal, Ovechkin pulls even with former Islanders great and Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Bossy for 21st on the league's all-time goals ledger.
Next up on the list is newly minted Hall of Famer Mark Recchi, who sits 20th with 577 goals.
Video: Caps 365 | November 24
Bolt Beater - Ovechkin continued his career-long success against the Lightning, too. He now has 84 points (42 goals, 42 assists) in his 64 career contests against Tampa Bay. The only NHL franchise against which Ovechkin has scored more points is Atlanta/Winnipeg (88 points).
Century City - Jay Beagle had a goal and an assist in Friday's win, and his helper on Smith-Pelly's game-winning goal was the 100th point of Beagle's NHL career. Later in the game, Beagle added an important empty-net goal to safely salt the game away.
"It's just such a blessing to be in this league." says Beagle. "It's awesome to be playing and I try not to take it ever for granted. I'm not a huge points/stats guy, but that is a cool milestone, and I've just got to keep it going."
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | November 24
Season Highs - The Caps hit top heights in a trio of single-game stats on Friday. Tom Wilson's eight hits are the most by a Washington player in any game this season. John Carlson's eight blocked shots match the eight blocks by Brooks Orpik on Nov. 18 against Minnesota, and Beagle's 14 face-off wins are also the most by a Cap in any game this season.
By The Numbers - Niskanen led the Caps with 24:30 in ice time … Ovechkin led the way for Washington with nine shots on net and 14 shot attempts … Beagle won 14 of 17 draws (82%), Lars Eller won 9 of 11 (82%) and Nicklas Backstrom won 10 of 16 (63%).