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Capitals blow out Flyers 5-0 to win 9th consecutive game

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals showed they could get away with a slow start and still pull out another win.

Despite a sluggish beginning that forced backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to be on top of his game, the Capitals' offense came to life in a 5-0 blowout of the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.

Washington has won a season-best nine in a row to climb atop the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and NHL standings with 63 points.

The Capitals have beaten New Jersey, Ottawa (twice), Toronto, Columbus, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia and outscored those opponents 40-11 over this stretch. They haven't allowed an even-strength goal in 298:54 going back to the Maple Leafs game on Jan. 3.

"I think guys are enjoying coming to the rink right now," said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who scored twice in in a span of 2:27 of the third period.

"We're getting some offense, but we're also getting some shutouts mixed in there, too, so that's a good sign. We're playing really good hockey, still room to grow I think in the long term, but it's pretty fun right now."

It doesn't get much more fun than four goals on seven shots in five minutes early in the third period, the onslaught the Capitals piled on the Flyers with two goals each by Niskanen and winger Justin Williams.

Grubauer was sharp especially early and on five successful penalty kills and made 24 saves, and Andre Burakovsky scored a power-play goal in the second period to fluster Philadelphia, which had 13 of the game's first 18 shots.

"The first two periods we played excellent road periods," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after his team's eighth consecutive road loss.

"We didn't give up much and had a little bit better of the chances. But it got away from us in five minutes at the start of the third period."

Goaltender Steve Mason, who was pulled after allowing five goals on 17 shots, called this a "tough stretch" and said the Flyers need to step back and get away from hockey for a few days during their bye week. They've lost 11 of their past 14 games.

Over about the same span the Capitals have trended upward to pass the Blue Jackets -- who a href(equals)'https://apnews.com/84f806821ccc4475be18d9ddbb7eb8f6/Capped-off:-Blue-Jackets'-streak-snapped-at-16-in-Washington'lost in Washington/a last week to end their 16-game streak -- for first place.

They've taken 48 minor penalties but on the strength of balanced offense, 5-on-5 dominance and stellar goaltending they haven't lost since Dec. 29 .

"Everybody seems to be doing their job at a high level right now, and that's why we're being successful," said Williams, who has 14 goals this season.

"When there's a breakdown, someone's there to help you out and when there's a total breakdown our goaltenders are there to shut the door."

That was Grubauer in making his first start of 2017 in place of Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby. He eventually got some goal support, but found a groove to pick up his second shutout of the season and his career.

"It helps seeing the puck there in the first couple of seconds to get into the game," Grubauer said. "It's been a while since I've played, so guys kept it to the outside and I don't think we gave them too many chances in the first so that was good."

Game notes
Capitals D John Carlson left after the first period because of a lower-body injury, but coach Barry Trotz said he's "possible" to play Monday in Pittsburgh. ... Niskanen's goals were his first since Dec. 13. ... D Shayne Gostisbehere returned to the Flyers' lineup after being a healthy scratch Saturday in Boston. ... Philadelphia RW Matt Read was out after getting cut in the loss to the Bruins. ... Washington C Nicklas Backstrom was honored before the game for picking up his 500th assist on Jan. 7 in Ottawa. Owner Ted Leonsis presented him with a golden stick to commemorate the achievement. ... The Capitals improved to 24-3-3 when scoring first.

UP NEXT

Flyers: Go on their bye week, which ends when they host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

Capitals: Try to make it 10 consecutive wins when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday. Holtby is expected to start in the finale of the teams' season series.

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

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