The Capitals, playing in the final tilt of a three-game homestand, gave themselves a six-point cushion over the New York Rangers with a 3-2 win against the Blueshirts Friday night. In the 200th regular season meeting between the former Patrick and current Metropolitan Division foes, the Capitals improved to 94-82-18-6 all-time against New York and are now 9-5-1 against Metro Division opponents. The win also marked Washington’s 10th regulation win of the season.
Eric Fehr, playing in his 300th game as a Washington Capital, scored the game-winning goal and Philipp Grubauer turned aside 38 shots in the win. Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom also scored for the Caps.
Backstrom, who had a goal and the primary assist on Fehr’s game winner, now has 17 points in his last eight games yet is easily one of the most underrated players in the league.
“I don’t know, the hockey people I talk to seem to think he’s pretty good,” Capitals head coach Adam Oates joked when asked about that issue. “I mean in Washington. But no, he’s a top guy.”
Strong starts are clearly important to the Capitals success this season as the victory over the Rangers improved their record to 13-5-0 when scoring first.
“Earlier on in the season, we were coming out flat at times and it was hard to come back,” Green said. “But anytime we’ve been up and had momentum first we’ve been very successful, it shows in our record. But we’ve got to do that every game.”
While the Capitals allowed 40 shots and 32 through two periods alone, they never trailed in the game, due in large part to the stellar play of Grubauer, Washington’s number three goalie.
“He’s been unbelievable for us,” Fehr said of Grubauer. “He’s got a bit of an unorthodox style, but he gets the job done and we have obviously the most confidence in him when he’s out there and he’s done a great job for us.”
Grubauer was especially strong against a barrage of Rangers’ chances in the second period, which allowed Backstrom to score late and break a 1-1 tie.
While the grinding win against the rival Rangers showed how successful the Capitals can be when they “play correct” as Adam Oates often likes to say, they still need to be more consistent. In addition, while their win against the Rangers was well-deserved, they were playing against a short bench as New York defenseman Anton Stralman sustained an injury in the first period and did not return to the game.
The Capitals have won successive regulation games only once this season, on December 7-8 against the Predators and Rangers, respectively. They will try for a second consecutive 60-minute win Sunday night in Buffalo against the fledgling Sabres.
Helped by Martin Erat’s hard work near the corner boards, Mike Green was able to put the Caps up by one with his blast from the center point at 6:55 of the opening period. His primary assist on the goal was Erat’s fifth helper in his last five games.
Benoit Pouliot tipped in Brad Richards’ shot on a Rangers power play to knot the score at one just 1:37 into the second period.
Fehr appeared to have scored to regain the Caps lead during a second period power play, but a review of the play showed that the puck never crossed the goal line
“I just put the puck on net and I saw the puck go behind the goalie and the ref was pointing to the net, so I thought it was a goal,” Fehr said. “I never saw it go in.”
Picking up Steve Oleksy’s clearing attempt in the Rangers’ zone, Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps a 2-1 lead with a wrist shot that slipped under Talbot’s blocker with only 1:05 left in the second period.
The Caps lead didn’t last long, however, as Carl Hagelin managed a breakaway on a Washington power play, backhanding a short-handed tally under Grubauer’s pads just 17 seconds into the third period.
Despite that deflating goal, the Capitals dominated the third and were eventually rewarded with Fehr’s game winner at 14:51 of the final period.
New York made a push with Talbot pulled in the last 1:45 of the game, but Washington held on for a rare regulation win.