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Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

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USA TODAY Sports

Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

Less than 90 seconds in, Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning very much had a feeling of déjà vu.

With Phillipp Grubauer getting the start against the best team in the league, the Caps took a penalty just 44 seconds into the game. Grubauer failed to freeze the puck on two different opportunities allowing the Lightning to keep the puck in play and score the early goal to go up 1-0.

“I thought early, they score a minute basically into the game and you're like, OK here we go,” Barry Trotz said.

“I was laughing, here I go again,” Grubauer said.

RELATED: 3 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE LIGHTNING

Wins have been hard to come by for Grubauer this season. Coming into Fridays’ game, he had none. An early goal against a team as good as the Lightning could have been a backbreaker.

But not this time.

Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 in the first period and that’s when Grubauer took over.

“When it was 1-1, I thought Gruby made some real key saves for us,” Trotz said.

 

He added, “They were getting people to the net and they were dangerous all around. He made some real huge saves for us and we got him more than a goal.”

For the first time since Grubauer’s first start this season back on Oct. 9, the Caps gave Grubauer a lead to protect in the second period courtesy of Devante Smith-Pelly. That not only gave Grubauer confidence, it also allowed his teammates to focus more on playing well in front of him rather than taking chances in the offensive zone in search of a goal.

Bottling up a team as explosive and talented as the Lightning is not easy, but Grubauer was up to the task.

Friday’s 3-1 win was Grubauer’s first of the season. His record now sits at 1-5-1, a record his teammates know is not reflective of how well he has played for them.​

MORE CAPITALS: TARIK'S 3 STARS OF CAPS-LIGHTNING

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

That was evident after the game as Grubauer's teammates were effusive in their praise for the German netminder.

“Not an easy position to be a backup goalie and he's kept a good attitude throughout this even though we haven't played well in front of him,” Matt Niskanen said.

 

It was hard to figure out afterward just who this game meant more to, whether it was Grubauer whose family is in town for his birthday Saturday and who was in attendance Friday, or his teammates.

“My parents were here so I'm really, really proud to give them a good game and get the win for the boys,” Grubauer said.

Said Niskanen, “Everyone's smiles were a little bit bigger today for him. He played really well. He earned it.”

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What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

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USA TODAY Sports

What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and start to look forward. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

El-Bashir: Through the Caps' first 45 games, there have been some great goals, scintillating saves and thrilling overtime sessions. But the biggest moment, to me, wasn’t really moment at all. It was the day or so after the Caps cratered in Colorado, 6-2, on Nov. 16, because they came back a totally different team vs. Minnesota on Nov. 18.

Following that blowout loss to the Avalanche, Coach Barry Trotz had a “man-to-man talk with the group” and challenged each individual to look himself in the mirror. When a coach does that, there are typically two ways a season will go—to the top or down the drain. Trotz wasn’t sure which response he’d get, but he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. “The way they came out [against the Wild] told me everything I needed to know,” Trotz said to me and Rob Carlin on the Caps Extra Podcast (11/29).

RELATED: WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SEASON SO FAR?

The really good stuff begins around 13:00, and it’s definitely worth a listen if you haven’t heard it:

    

Including that 3-1 win over the Wild, the Caps are 18-5-2 in their last 25 games and have shot straight to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. Their 38 points are tied with the Golden Knights and Bruins for most in that time frame. 

Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin has accrued 15 goals and 15 assists in those 25 games. Only four players—John Tavares, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby—have more points during that time period.

Indeed, every season has a turning point. For the Caps, it happened, collectively, after bottoming out in the thin air of the Mile High city.

Regan: There have been several moments that have stood out from the first 45 games of the season, such as Nathan Walker becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL and scoring in his first game on a night in which Alex Ovechkin also scored four times. Jay Beagle’s buzzer-beater against the Carolina Hurricanes will also stand as one of the best moments of the season when it is all said and done.

But I will go a bit more sentimental with my pick and choose Ovechkin’s hat-trick performance in Toronto for Alex Luey.

That night could not have been any more special. Ovechkin invited Luey, a 13-year-old cancer survivor, to attend the game with his family after he heard his story. Luey and Ovechkin were virtually inseparable for the night as Luey was on the bench for warmups and then was with Ovechkin for all of his postgame interviews.

That alone would have been a touching story, but it got so much better.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS!

Ovechkin promised Luey he would score for him before the game. He more than delivered with a hat-trick performance in a 4-2 win over Toronto in what was a magical night for both him and the Luey family.

You couldn’t write a story so perfect and if you did everyone would think it too unbelievable. Yet it happened and it was by far the best moment of the season.

We may be only 45 games in, but this one will be hard to top.

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Caps prospect watch: Colby Williams suspended 3 games for high hit

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Caps prospect watch: Colby Williams suspended 3 games for high hit

Capitals prospect defenseman Colby Williams has been suspended three games by the AHL for a high hit he delivered to Danick Martel of Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Per a statement released by the league on Tuesday:

Hershey Bears defenseman Colby Williams has been suspended for three (3) games as a consequence of an illegal check to the head of an opponent in a game at Lehigh Valley on Jan. 13.

Williams was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 21.1 after being assessed a match penalty. He missed Hershey’s game vs. Lehigh Valley on Jan. 14, and will also miss Hershey’s Wednesday (Jan. 17) at Springfield and Saturday (Jan. 20) vs. Lehigh Valley.

The hit came in the second period of Saturdays' game. Martel skated after a loose puck in the neutral zone, but Williams cut him off with the brutal hit. The hit appeared high and Martel was down on the ice for several moments. He ultimately had to be helped off by trainers. Hobbs was assessed a match penalty and ejected from the game.

You can see the hit here.

Martel suffered a broken jaw on the play.

The suspension is a tough one for Williams. He was held out of Sunday's game and will also miss Hershey's games on Jan. 12 and the Outdoor Classic on Jan. 20 at Hersheypark Stadium. Missing that game will certainly sting.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • Riley Barber scored his 12th goal of the season on Saturday. He is now tied for the team lead in goals with Chris Bourque.
  • Travis Boyd picked up an assist in Sunday's loss to Lehigh Valley. The assist is the 100th career assist for Boyd who has played in 193 AHL games.
  • Garrett Pilon made his debut with the Everett Silvertips after getting traded from Kamloops last week. Head coach Dennis Williams offered glowing praise after his first game on Wednesday saying, "I think Pilon is going to get better and better. I think I might have to harp on him to shoot pucks a little bit more." Pilon responded with a hat trick on Saturday, just his second game with the Silvertips. In four games over the week, he recorded four goals and one assist.
  • Brian Pinho scored a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over Boston College on Friday. He now has 10 points in his last six games. “Brian always does the right thing,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “That’s part of him coming in and playing the wing the first year and learning what it takes. Having a lot of older guys ahead of him. But he had a lot of older guys to look up to when he got to the program. Now, I think Brian is that older guy and I think he’s doing a terrific job being that leader that our team needs. He’s really comfortable with that right now.”

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.