Sunday, March 13, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A NO-Point Night: Sharks 5 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their four-game road trip on Saturday night on an off-note, dropping a 5-2 decision to the San Jose Sharks.  It was a game in which the Caps never could quite seem to get traction, falling behind in the first period and finding themselves in a constant state of catch-up.  They did manage to tie the game twice after Sharks goals, but San Jose pulled away with a three-goal third –period.

The Caps found themselves a victim of a persistent problem over the last month – allowing the first goal and having a sluggish first period.  The Caps started decently enough, holding the Sharks to a 6-5 edge in shots and a 10-7 advantage in shot attempts over the first nine minutes and change, despite allowing a Sharks power play.  San Jose scored in that tenth minute, though, when Joe Thornton put back a rebound of a Brenden Dillon shot.

The Cap prevented any further first period damage, then they struck early in the second.  With Nick Spaling off for a high-sticking penalty taken late in the first period and Brent Burns joining him after taking a delay-of-game penalty 20 seconds into the second period, the Caps had a 5-on-3 advantage.  They worked the puck smartly around and through the San Jose defense, Alex Ovechkin sending a cross-ice pass to Nicklas Backstrom at the right wing wall then Backstrom threading a pass through the middle of the Sharks’ defense to a wide-open T.J. Oshie for a one-timer than he snapped past goalie Martin Jones at the 1:21 mark.

The Caps could not complete the power play advantage with a goal on the ensuing 5-on-4, but they did get another power play chance when Joe Thornton went off for boarding Dmitry Orlov 3:39 into the period.  The Caps managed just one shot on goal in the first minute and a half of the power play, then they got in their own way and gave the hosts  a shorthanded chance.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic slammed the puck from behind the net around and up the left wing boards where Orlov and Justin Williams were stationed for the Caps.  Neither could take possession of the puck, which suited Patrick Marleau just fine.  Marleau darted between them and started up ice, Joel Ward joining him on a two-on-none break.  Marleau gave up the puck to Ward at the Caps blue line, and Ward returned the puck to Marleau, who chipped it up and over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s pad for the shorthanded goal to make it 2-1, Sharks, 5:14 in the period.

Washington tied the game five minutes later on a bang-bang play.  Andre Burakovsky glided down the left wing with the puck, dropping it off for Evgeny Kuznetsov in the circle.  Kuznetsov took one step and ripped a pass to the top of the crease, where Williams was waiting to redirect it past Jones to make it 2-2 at the 10:12 mark.

Just before the end of the second period, the Caps had a chance to take the lead into the locker room when Jay Beagle, who was slashed by Brent Burns as he was closing on the Sharks’ net, was awarded a penalty shot.  Beagle’s attempt was poke-checked away by Jones, and the Caps had to be satisfied with going to the second intermission tied with the Sharks.

San Jose ended the competitive portion of the evening early in the third period, scoring a pair of goals barely two minutes apart in the first three minutes.   With Kuznetsov off for a hooking penalty he took late in the second period, the Caps were chasing the Sharks and the puck around in their own zone when Joe Thornton eased the puck down to Joe Pavelski, who had worked himself behind the Caps’ defense.  Pavelski lifted a backhand that Grubauer misplayed off the bottom of his blocker and into the net to give the Sharks the lead they would not relinquish a third time. 

With the echo of the goal horn still reverberating in the arena, the Sharks struck again, Brenden Dillon throwing a harmless looking shot from the top of the offensive zone that sailed through a screen and past Grubauer’s right shoulder to make it 4-2 just 2:51 into the period.

That goal took whatever fight was left in the Caps out of them, and the Sharks added an empty net goal by Burns in the final minute for the final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The loss left the Caps 2-1-1 on their four-game road trip, which by most measures would be considered a successful trip.  However, the Caps are now 5-4-1 in their last ten games, have been out-scored by a 27-24 margin, and are just 25-for-31 killing penalties (80.6 percent).

-- How bad has it been lately?  When San Jose scored in the first period, it was the 13th time in the Caps’ last 15 games they allowed the first goal of the game, and in that same span of games they have been outscored in the first period, 17-4.

-- Philipp Grubauer did not have a great game.  Maybe it was coming.  In his last dozen appearances he was 6-3-0 (three no-decisions), 1.60, .946.  This was just the third time in his last 13 appearances he allowed more than two goals and just the fourth time in that span that he allowed more than one.

-- After being shut out by the Sharks, Alex Ovechkin is now five games and counting without a goal, his longest drought of the season.

-- The Caps took it on the chin in the faceoff circle, winning just 21 of 58 draws (36.2 percent).  Take away Jay Beagle’s 6-for-8, and it looks a lot worse (30 percent).

-- An indicator that their heads might not have been in the game?  Justin Williams – not Alex Ovechkin – led the team with six shots on goal.  Jay Beagle was next with four. No other Cap had more than two.

-- Patrick Marleau’s shorthanded goal was the fourth allowed by the Caps this season.  Eight teams have allowed fewer.

-- Bad omen…. Yes, Matt Niskanen was getting to the end of a shift when he went behind the net in the first period to get the puck, and yes, he was nailed by Joe Thornton went he reached it.  But he took the long way around from behind the net, allowing Thornton to get inside position, and then when Thornton set up in front of Grubauer, Niskanen looked sluggish in engaging him.  It was a recipe to allow Thornton time to whack in a rebound for the game’s first goal.

-- Even the bright spot for the Caps in this game dimmed somewhat.  The Caps recorded a power play goal for the seventh time in nine games (8-for-26/30.8 percent), but their inability to convert the 5-on-4 after scoring at 5-on-3, and allowing a shorthanded goal on another power play shortly after the first 5-on-4 expired were momentum killers.

-- It has become a tired theme.  San Jose out-attempted the Caps at 5-on-5 in the first period, 23-16, and carried a 1-0 lead to the locker room.  The Caps did better in the second, finishing with a 16-9 edge in shot attempts and dominating the scoring chances by a 10-2 margin (5-0 in high-danger scoring chances).  What they could not do was close the deal in the third period, the Sharks finishing with a 17-9 edge in shot attempts, a 10-3 edge in scoring chances, and a 3-0 advantage in goals (numbers from

In the end…

Don’t look now, but the Caps are pretty ordinary at the moment.  Five wins in their last ten games, getting outscored, possession not impressive (50.2 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5).  Over an 82-game season it is bound to happen, and this is still a team that has not lost consecutive games in regulation all year.  Then again, it took an herculean effort to claw back against the Kings with three third period goals in Los Angeles to gouge out a point in that game before last night’s loss in San Jose. 

Nine goals allowed in consecutive games ties the season high for the Caps (oddly enough, also in a 4-3 overtime loss and a 5-2 loss, to the Philadelphia Flyers on January 27th and to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd, respectively).  The Caps have a chance to get their heads on straight with a pair of home games next week before they head into a stretch of six road games in eight contests.  It’s time to put the indifferent-looking play of the last month behind them.

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