- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2017

Less than a minute into the Washington Capitals‘ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik picked up a hooking penalty — putting goaltender Philipp Grubauer in another unlucky situation.

Shortly after, Tampa Bay converted a power play goal, off the chest of Vladislav Namestnikov no less. The goal was the exact type of ridiculousness that plagued Grubauer in his previous six winless starts of the season despite his quality goaltending.

“I was laughing, ‘Here we go again,’” said Grubauer, who was starting on the front end of a back-to-back.

Instead, the opposite happened. The Capitals found their offense against a team leading the NHL in points.

In Grubauer’s last five starts, the Capitals never had the lead. The poor results started with an 8-1 shellacking in Philadelphia on Oct. 14. (The Flyers’ loss was so bad that Capitals coach Barry Trotz said his defense couldn’t even throw Grubauer a raft.)

Each outing forced Washington to chase the game, which resulted in some sloppiness on the Capitals‘ end. During those starts, the Capitals‘ reworked blueline was still figuring out each other, too.

Last year, Grubauer had consistency when filling in for starter starter Braden Holtby. This year required more of a learning curve.

“When [Friday’s game] was 1-1, I thought Gruby made real key saves for us,” Trotz said. “There was a shorthander, there was one right in front of the net. He made a couple of big saves and I think he settled in really well right there. … We got him more than a goal!

“I know the guys were thrilled to get a win for Gruby because they know he shows up as a pro for every game.”

Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly broke the tie when he pushed in a rebound after a Jay Beagle breakaway. For once, the Capitals finally gave Grubauer a lead. He laughed when it was pointed out to him.

“The team did unbelievable,” Grubauer said. “If we play like this the whole year, we are going to be really tough to beat. Everybody was working. Gaps were good. We didn’t give a lot up and we blocked a bunch of shots. It was an awesome win.”

The win was a strong, and more importantly, a consistent performance for a Capitals team that has failed to string wins in a row. Trotz said his team neutralized Tampa Bay’s speed and pressure.

The Capitals earned the victory with all four lines clicking, too. Since reuniting Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the team’s top line on Wednesday, Tom Wilson has emerged as a solid option next to the two.

On the Capitals‘ first goal, Wilson found Ovechkin on a breakaway for a one-timer at the top of the left circle with less than two minutes left in the first period. The pass was perfectly timed.

“It’s not surprise because I see him every day, what he can do in practice and in the game,” Ovechkin said of Wilson. “Again, I think he have a skill that he can make that pass and make that play. It’s a different role for him right now. He’s playing top six and it’s different hockey.”

Beagle added an empty-netter late to put the game out of reach.

Not only did the Capitals give Grubauer his first victory of the season, the win gave him an early present ahead of his 26th birthday on Saturday. Grubauer’s parents from Germany were also at the game for the occasion.

“They should have come more often,” Grubauer said.

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