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Caps vs. Canadiens Recap: Grubauer Shines, But Rust Sinks Washington 3-2

The Capitals faced their second opponent in twenty-four hours Friday night, stumbling against the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals got another typically fabulous start out of backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer on Friday night, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the sloppy passes and missed chances that eventually sunk the Caps 3-2.

Here’s Friday night’s Plus/Minus:

Plus: Andre Burakovsky made his return to the lineup tonight, and despite failing to cash in on two breakaway chances, looked generally energetic and glad to be back.

Minus: The Capitals once again failed to get any meaningful run support for goalie Philipp Grubauer, who played more than solidly behind a still-rusty team.

And now, this...

Ten more notes on the game:

1. After a visibly rusty return from the bye week in an overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils Thursday night, the Capitals got right back to it again the very next night, welcoming Les Habitents the Montreal Canadiens chez-eux. Had all the rust been sufficiently shaken loose?

Asked about the potential iron oxidizing effects of coming out of a bye week right into a back-to-back, defenseman John Carlson downplayed its importance, but acknowledged that it can have an effect.

“Your timing gets thrown off a little bit. Whether it’s rust, or whether it’s just that you get uneven a little bit, your reads are your reads. They’re still your reads, you still read the game the same way. When you’re maybe just a little bit off, those reads aren’t coming naturally, and you’re just a step behind a little bit,” Carlson told me.

2. And speaking of things that need to shake it loose, the Capitals’ once-mighty power play went a literally-infinitely-badly 0-for-5 against New Jersey. Could the man advantage successfully perform its Vulcan(inzed rubber) Mind Meld?

3. A little roster drama before puck drop, as the return to the lineup of former healthy scratch Andre Burakovsky meant either Devante Smith-Pelly or Chandler Stephenson would have to sit this one out. In the end, Stephenson got the sweater, and Smith-Pelly got a seat in the press box.

I asked Burakovsky how it felt to get back into the lineup and get his skating legs back under him, and whether the bye week affected him differently than his teammates, given his additional rest.

“It felt really good. We had the break there to reset the body a little bit...My legs felt really fresh. I felt good tonight, I think my skating was on top there...I had a couple extra games, but I think it's all the same, really. It’s all mental, this game. It definitely helps to get a couple days off there and reset the body,” Burakovsky told me.

4. Getting the starts in net tonight were backups-to-the-delicate-geniuses Philipp Grubauer and Antti Niemi, each called to duty for one half of their respective back-to-backs. Which second-stringer would play first fiddle Friday night?

5. The two clubs exchanged shots and penalty barbs for the first thirty minutes, but it wasn’t until halfway through the second period that the first royal blood was drawn. With Tom Wilson in the penalty box serving two minutes for hooking (ladiessss), Montreal’s Max Pacioretty caught a heads-up pass from Jonathan Drouin, turned quickly, and ripped it past a surprised Grubauer and into the back of the net. It was 1-0 Canadiens.

6. But like a Marvel sequel, Captain America answered back. John Carlson boomed a massive slapshot from the point that buzzed Niemi’s noggin just long enough to say Bonjour, au revoir! and find the twine. Collecting an assist on the goal was Alex Ovechkin, the 499th of his career. This one was tied 1-1 after two periods in Washington.

7. Early in the third period, Tom Wilson took exception to a Nicolas Deslauriers hit on Christian Djoos, and challenged him to the ancient rite of fisticuffs. The two engaged in The Ritual, and Wilson recorded his second bout in as many days.

8. The singular tie held until halfway through the final frame. After a whiz-bang series of shots and caroms at Grubauer’s end of the rink, one particularly naughty slapshot bounced off the back boards, off a player’s skate, and directly onto the stick of Montreal’s Paul Byron in the low slot. Byron seized his opportunity to rip it home and gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead in the process.

9. The Habs would pot an additional empty netter, and the Capitals would roar back in the final minute with a valiant answer from Lars Eller, but it was not to be, and Montreal took this one 3-2.

After the game, Lars Eller had some brutally honest words about his team’s effort, accusing the whole group of playing with “a lack of respect for how we should play without the puck,” adding, “Too much cheat. Not enough attention to detail. Just sloppy. Probably one of the sloppiest games I’ve seen us play, if not the sloppiest. Just not playing the right way. I don’t think we’ve ever given up so many odd-man chances, breakaways in one game. It wasn’t fair to Grubi at all.”

10. Philipp Grubauer, for his part, was characteristically excellent again tonight, and continues to prove that he’s ready for a starting gig in the NHL. He made 23-of-25 saves for a .920 SV%.

So, there’s still a little bit of rust on these bones. The Caps will have until Sunday to shake off the rest, when the Philadelphia Flyers come to Capital One Arena.

Game highlights: