In what was a surprisingly low-scoring contest, the Caps rode a 31-save effort from goalie Philipp Grubauer, and timely goals from Michael Latta and Jason Chimera to the win.
Carolina dominated the pace and geography of the contest in the early going, but it was Washington getting on the board first. Latta started the play he would finish, taking a pass from Dmitry Orlov in the neutral zone and skating the puck to the Carolina line. There, he left the puck for Andre Burakovsky who fired a shot at goalie Cam Ward. The shot was stopped, but the rebound was left in the slot where Latta, skating hard toward the net, swiped at it in stride and sent it past Ward to make it 1-0, Caps, at the 15:52 mark of the first period.
That would be how the score remained until midway in the second period. It was a case of simple things done well paying off for the Caps. Jay Beagle won a faceoff to the left of Ward, drawing the puck back to John Carlson. From the right point, Carlson sent a low drive to the net that clicked off the skate of Jason Chimera and past Ward’s right pad to make it 2-0 at the 12:49 mark of the period.
From there, it was up to Grubauer, who was spelling Braden Holtby for this contest. Grubauer was solid, allowing a solitary goal when a shot by John-Michael Liles caromed hard off the end boards to Kris Versteeg at the side of the net. Versteeg pulled the puck to his forehand, and from a difficult angle flipped the puck over Grubauer’s right pad to halve the lead. That would be as close as the Hurricanes would get, though, and the Caps skated into the holidays with a 2-1 win, their sixth straight.
-- The Caps left Carolina with a commanding lead in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. Washington has a ten-point lead on the New York Islanders in the Metro with two games in hand. They hold a ten-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for the conference lead with two games in hand over the Habs as well.
-- Jay Beagle did it again. His assist on Jason Chimera’s goal and the ensuing win makes the Caps 33-0-4 in the last 37 games in which Beagle recorded a point.
-- The pace of this game was amazing. Nowhere is that revealed more clearly than in the faceoffs. There were only 43 draws in the game, the Caps winning 26 of them. Beagle shined here, too, going 14-for-18 (77.8 percent).
-- Grubauer’s win was his first in a game he started since October 31st (a 26-save effort in a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers). Along with the 7-for-7 performance in relief of Braden Holtby in the Caps’ 5-3 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last week, he is 38-for-39 in his last two appearances (.974). Four periods is not a trend, but it is welcome nonetheless.
-- The Caps reached the 25-win mark in 33 games (25-6-2). It is the fastest to 25 wins in team history, and it is not close. Three other teams (1985-1986, 1991-1992, and 2008-2009) got to 25 wins in their 39th games. The Caps now have two-six-game and one five-game winning streaks this season.
-- Michael Latta has two goals on his last five shots on goal; Jason Chimera has goals in consecutive games and two goals on his last six shots. Not bad for the lower half of the forward lines.
-- The 21 shots on goal was not a season low, but they could see it from Raleigh. The Caps also had 21 shots on goal in a 4-1 win at Florida on December 10th. Their season low in shots was 19 in a 3-2 win at Montreal on December 3rd.
-- Possession numbers are still a problem. The Caps had 40 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to 64 for Carolina. It was the third worst shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 of the season, and the alarming thing is that the two instances of worse shot differential came in the last ten days – a minus-25 against Tampa Bay on December 12th and a minus-27 against Pittsburgh on December 14th. Yes, the Caps won both games (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
-- John Carlson extended his point streak to seven games with his assist on the Jason Chimera goal. He is 2-6-8 over those seven games and is 2-12-14 over his last 13 games. He is now tied for fourth in scoring among defensemen in the league (6-21-27).
-- Andre Burakovsy had an assist, breaking a six-game streak without a point. The last point he recorded, in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on December 5th, also snapped a six-game streak without a point. We hope this is not a pattern.
In the end…
The Capitals do find a way. Where the first line dominated the comeback wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers leading up to this contest, it was the grinders and the backup goalie leading the way in this game. That kind of 20-man effort has overcome possession issues that have been hanging around for more than a month. It makes one wonder just how dominant this team might be if they would just solve that problem.
Happy Holidays, Caps fans!