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Caps fall to undermanned Wild, Fucale impresses again in record-breaking performance, more

by Mike Vogel @vogscaps /

The Other Side - Over the course of a 16-game stretch of the schedule from late November to earlier this week, the Capitals found themselves with five or more players unavailable to them for reasons of injury or illness in 14 of those contests. Despite all of the roster flux, lineup chaos, and a handful of postponed games, they managed to cobble together a respectable 9-4-3 record over that stretch.

The Caps' list of ailing finally dipped back down to four players when they headed west for a weekend set of back-to-back games in the Midwest, and on Saturday night in Minnesota, the Caps found themselves on the opposite side of that chaotic roster equation.

When the puck dropped in St. Paul on Saturday night, the Wild was without nine players, including several key performers. But despite falling down 2-0 in the second period, Minnesota - with the aid of an incredible stroke of good fortune - found a way to scratch out a 3-2 shootout victory over the visiting Capitals.

Despite a calamitous second period in which it took four minor penalties, surrendered two goals to Washington and was held without a shot on net for more than 10 minutes, the Wild came out of the game's middle stanza down only 2-1.

Minnesota's first goal of the game - credited to Marcus Foligno - was the rarest of breeds; it came without the team being credited with a corresponding shot on net. During a delayed Minnesota penalty, an errant Washington pass went the length of the ice and into the vacated Caps cage, delivering some life and breath to a Wild team that was very much on the ropes at that juncture of the evening.

The combination of that stroke of luck and a strong netminding performance from Kaapo Kahkonen (29 saves) kept the game at 2-1, and when Mats Zuccarello finally solved Caps goalie Zach Fucale with a 6-on-5 goal in the last minute of regulation, the Wild had forced overtime.

Minnesota prevailed in the shootout, and despite bouncing back well from a bad beat in St. Louis on Friday and playing well enough to win on Saturday, the Caps went home with just a single standings point for the trip.

"Overall as a team, I thought we played pretty well," says Caps forward Connor McMichael. "Obviously [they scored] that unlucky goal in the second there, and Fooks made a couple of unreal saves for us. I thought we bounced back really well from [Friday] night."

Broken Record - Fucale played the final 20 minutes of Friday's 5-1 loss in St. Louis, coming on in relief of starter Ilya Samsonov. That relief appearance was the second game of Fucale's NHL career, he authored a 21-save shutout over the Red Wings in Detroit in his NHL debut on Nov. 11.

Entering his second start in the League on Saturday against the Wild, Fucale had stopped all 28 shots he faced in 79:06 of time in the crease. Early in the first period, he broke Cristobal Huet's Washington franchise record (80:36) for longest shutout streak by a goaltender at the beginning of their tenure with the franchise.

Early in the second period - at the 3:43 mark of that frame, to be precise - Fucale etched himself into the NHL's record books in just his third game in the League. He broke Matt Hackett's mark for longest shutout streak by a goaltender at the outset of his career (102:48), and Fucale kept adding to that streak until Zuccarello finally solved him in the final minute of regulation.

Fucale's NHL record stands at 138 minutes and 17 seconds, and it's a mark he was unaware of until after the game ended. He got the start on Saturday because Vitek Vanecek is battling a non-COVID related illness, and Fucale now has stopped 49 of the 50 shots he has faced in the NHL to forge a .980 save pct. and a 0.42 GAA to start his career.

He's still third on Washington's goaltending depth chart, but the 26-year-old goalie has certainly opened some eyes in his seventh pro season. Personnel decisions are beyond his control, but Fucale has taken care of everything that he can control.

"Hundred percent," he says. "I think that's a good mentality to have in this environment. With the taxi squad - all these things - the protocol and all that, you've just got to roll with the waves and go day-by-day to be honest with you. Look 10 feet in front of you and go from there, but it's challenging. It's challenging, but you have to you have to be adaptable in these situations."

Fucale was unhappy with the goal he yielded to Zuccarello, but the Swiss winger thought he got a fortunate bounce on the play.

"He made some unbelievable saves all through the game that maybe should have been goals," says Zuccarello, the only player to score on Fucale in the latter's brief NHL career to date. "So it was nice to get a lucky bounce like that."

You've Got The Power - Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a power-play goal for Washington in the second period, firing a one-timer past Kahkonen from the right circle just three seconds into the Caps' second power play of the evening.

Kuznetsov's goal was the first extra-man tally by a Caps player not named Alex Ovechkin since Dmitry Orlov's game-winning goal on the power play late in the third period of a Nov. 28 game against Carolina.

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were at home on Saturday night, playing the middle match of a weekend set of three games in as many nights and hosting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Bears blanked the Baby Pens, 3-0.

Hunter Shepard, who authored a shutout over Lehigh Valley in his AHL debut last May, made 20 saves in the Hershey nets to notch his second AHL whitewash, improving to 3-1-0 on the season.

Shane Gersich gave Shepard all the support he would require at 17:28 of the first period, scoring his seventh goal of the season with help from Mike Vecchione and Mason Morelli.

Vecchione netted his fourth of the season at 14:51 of the second to extend the Hershey lead to 2-0, Joe Snively and Cody Franson assisting.

Gersich completed the scoring with his second of the night at 15:04 of the third, with Morelli recording the lone assist.

The 17-10-2-1 Bears conclude a busy weekend when they host the Baby Pens in a rematch on Sunday afternoon.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Capitals with 26:37 in ice time … Ovechkin and Daniel Sprong had four shots on net each to lead Washington … Kuznetsov and Sprong led the Caps with six shot attempts each … Garnet Hathaway, Mike Sgarbossa and Tom Wilson each had two hits to lead the Capitals … Justin Schultz blocked three shots to lead the Caps … Sgarbossa won five of six draws (83 percent).

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