A slow start against an inexperienced goaltender doomed the New York Rangers in a 4-1 home loss to the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. on Sunday night. The Rangers (15-15-1, 31 points) posted just seven shots in the first period against Washington rookie goalie Philipp Grubauer, failing to score.
Grubauer was only truly tested once in the opening period, making a strong save at his right post with just less than three minutes to go that kept the game scoreless. While the Capitals (16-12-2, 34 points) also failed to score in the period (and also had seven shots against New York’s Henrik Lundqvist), Washington began taking control of play toward the end of the period.
Grubauer had seen just nine NHL shots this season prior to Sunday night’s start at Madison Square Garden. Those came Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Grubauer relieved Caps starter Braden Holtby to start the third period and didn’t allow any goals. Sunday’s appearance as just the second start of Grubauer’s NHL career and first this season.
New York’s inability to dictate play and put pressure on Grubauer came back to haunt the Blueshirts early in the second period when the Caps scored on back-to-back shots off the sticks of Jason Chimera and Steven Oleksy. The goals were scored just 25 seconds apart. Mikhail Grabovski added a goal on a penalty shot at 18:46 to make it 3-0 to Washington. Eric Fehr scored Washington’s final goal at 17:03 of the third period.
The Rangers playing on back-to-back nights could have been an excuse, but New York was at home as well on Saturday night in an overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. Washington played Saturday night too, then had to travel after beating the Nashville Predators 5-2 at Verizon Center. This was also the reason Grubauer got the start, since Holtby, who plays the majority of the minutes in goal for Washington, backstopped the Caps’ win over the Predators.
The missing offense in the first period was a bit of a surprise for the Rangers given how they had played recently. New York scored one goal in the first period of each of their last three games.
Lundqvist made back-to-back saves with Washington shorthanded in the middle of the second period, first stopping Chimera, then a rebound shot immediately after by Joel Ward. It was the kind of pressure that the Rangers (although perhaps not wanting to do so shorthanded) should have been putting on Grubauer from the start.
But their failure to do so, and subsequently falling behind early in the second period, were costly in this loss for the Rangers. They have now dropped three of their last four games and fell three points in back of the Capitals for second place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers finally beat Grubauer on a deflection by Benoit Pouliot with just 1:53 to play in the game, costing Grubauer what would have been his first career NHL shutout. Grubauer finished with 30 saves. Having now scored a relatively light nine goals in their last four games, the Rangers are next in action on Tuesday when New York hosts Nashville.