The Washington Capitals outchanced and outshot the San Jose Sharks on Monday night at the Verizon Center yet still lost, 5-3. Sure there were some crazy bounces that went San Jose’s way, but when you go back and watch the goals again the common theme on the large majority of them were players in front of the net. When it came to that battle, the Sharks won handily, and that is why they are leaving town with two points while the Capitals continue to fail to capitalize on chances to move up in the standings.
This was a difficult loss to take because at one point the score was 2-0 for the visitors yet the Caps had 11 scoring chances to just six for the Sharks (h/t @ngreenberg). Washington is not finishing plays, but more importantly, they aren’t getting the type of “greasy goals” you need to win hockey games. In the NHL the goalies are VERY good and if they see the shots, they are gonna stop them. The Caps did have some open looks but continue to shoot wide. They are in a slump and trying to pick corners, and as a result the back glass is getting a work out instead of the red light.
Where the goals must start coming from is Washington’s power play. The Caps had four man advantage situations in the first 32 minutes and couldn’t capitalize. Lack of shots with bodies in front of Tomas Greiss (39 saves) was the problem and had the Capitals gotten a goal or two from their power play this contest may have gone differently. Speaking of special teams, the Caps penalty killing allowed three goals in six tries and was also a major factor in the loss. Sure the first goal was a lucky deflection at the blue line that skipped off of the Verizon Center ice past Braden Holtby (30 saves in 1st 2011-12 NHL start), but the second tally was a terrible breakdown in coverage by Washington. John Carlson overcommitted on the boards and was beaten, then Karl Alzner left his feet to try and block a pass and missed (if he stays up he likely thwarts it with his stick), and Jeff Halpern doesn’t slide down and take out Joe Pavelski (two goals, two assists), who scored on the doorstep.
It is those type of defensive zone mistakes that are costing the Capitals.
Some will tell you it is Hunter’s decision to bench Mike Knuble instead of Jay Beagle. Others will wonder why Joel Rechlisz was recalled when he all he did was play 1:59. You will also hear that Holtby shouldn’t have started over Michal Neuvirth (Tomas Vokoun is still ill). NONE of those decisions were what decided the game.
As I pointed out at the start of the game, “Recker” had a role to play and that was to let Brad Winchester know he wasn’t going to take liberties with Washington’s star players like he did out in California last month. Anybody notice Winchester tonight? Nope, I didn’t either. Rechlisz did his job which is more than I can say for several Capitals. On Joel’s first shift, early in the game, he actually created havoc in front of the Sharks net. There were 11 other forwards wearing red who could have followed #54’s lead the rest of the game but they failed to do so until it was 5-1.
Picking on Hunter for those three decisions is playing on the edges, in my opinion. This team has some gaping talent holes right now with Nicklas Backstrom injured, Brooks Laich going on 1 knee (played less than 10 minutes again), and Mike Green recovering from surgery. However, there is still ability on this roster and guys like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman, Alzner, and Carlson have to be much better than they were on Monday night. San Jose seemed to have an “E-Z Pass” to the front of the Caps net all night. Washington didn’t make going there uncomfortable for them. That needs to change.
So let’s dig in the right place, the Capitals top end players aren’t getting it done and the entire lineup is not paying the price in front of either net to score and prevent goals. That area in front of the cages is where hockey games are won and lost. Right now the Capitals aren’t doing what is necessary and as a result the L’s are starting to pile up.
Notes: Washington does not play until Friday in Florida, which is the start of a four game trip that also takes them to Tampa, Carolina, and then Ottawa. It is a critical stretch in the Caps bid to make the playoffs. With three days off and the trading deadline nearing (3 pm on February 27th), there is a chance that General Manager George McPhee could make a deal to bolster the club before it is too late…the Caps won the faceoff battle 35-33.