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4 reasons why the Capitals beat the Sharks

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Capitals beat the Sharks

The San Jose Sharks have had the number of the Washington Capitals over the years, but that was not the case on Monday. The Caps were finally able to beat San Jose and they did so in convincing fashion with a 4-1 win.

Here’s why they won

Alex Ovechkin does it all

With the Caps leading by one in the second period, Ovechkin was able to pounce on a flubbed shot by Brent Burns and was off to the races. Ovechkin took the breakaway from the defensive zone, avoided the sweep check from Brenden Dillon and backhanded a shot past Martin Jones for the highlight reel goal. The second period was a sloppy one for Washington and the Sharks were retaking the momentum. Ovechkin’s goal was critical in re-establishing control of the game.

Brett Connolly restored the Caps’ two-goal lead. Or did he? Yes he did. Did he really? Yes. He did.

A bizarre sequence unfolded late in the second period. After Brenden Dillon was called for high-sticking and T.J. Oshie left the game after a hit from Joe Thornton, Connolly found himself playing with the top power play unit. He took advantage with a top-shelf goal to beat Jones. Or did he? The Caps thought he scored, but the puck was in and out so fast the referees let the play continue. After the next stoppage, the play was reviewed and Connolly was correctly awarded the goal. Or was he? At that moment, the Sharks decided to challenge the goal as offside. After another review, the goal was still upheld and Connolly was mercifully awarded the goal. The Sharks were also given a delay of game penalty for the challenge.

Philipp Grubauer’s third period

Through 40 minutes Grubauer looked good, but not great. That changed at the start of the third when Grubauer made a number of fantastic saves to ensure the Sharks could not make a game of it. His best save sequence came with 15:25 remaining in the third. Jannik Hansen hit Marcus Sorensen on the cross-ice pass to the right, but Grubauer was there with the pad to deny him. The Sharks were able to control the rebound and Sorensen fed it back to a wide-open Hansen on the left who was again denied by a sprawling Grubauer. Hansen and Sorensen kept digging for the puck but were ultimately unable to solve the German netminder. Grubauer faced nine shots in the third, the most he faced in any period on Monday, and he turned aside all nine.

The Sharks devolving in the third

At the start of the third, Tom Wilson called Thornton to account for his hit on Oshie. The two fought, then went to their respective penalty boxes. Issue over, right? Not for the Sharks. Whether they were upset by Wilson fighting Thornton, they were frustrated by the direction the game was going or they were just plain crazy, San Jose went nuts for most of the period. In all, the Sharks were assessed 37 penalty minutes (six minors, three majors and one 10-minute misconduct) in the final frame compared to Washington’s 18. It’s hard to mount a comeback when you are constant shorthanded.

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Oshie skates but will not travel to Brooklyn with the Caps

Oshie skates but will not travel to Brooklyn with the Caps

T.J. Oshie hit the ice Sunday in Arlington, where he skated on his own for about 30 minutes prior to Caps’ practice.

Oshie has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury that he sustained against San Jose.

RELATED: WHAT WAS NISKANEN DOING SO FAR UP ON HIS GAME-WINNING GOAL?

Sunday’s twirl marked Oshie’s first time on the ice since getting his head crunched against the boards by Joe Thornton on Monday.

A team spokesman said Oshie remains day-to-day and will not travel to Brooklyn with the team. The Caps play at the Islanders on Monday and host the Avalanche on Tuesday.

That means the cap-strapped Caps, who have won four straight games and seven of the past eight, do not currently have an extra forward. According to www.capfriendly.com, the team is $368,000 under the $75 million salary cap ceiling.

Injured players do not speak to the media until they’ve practiced fully with the team. 

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE RANGERS

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What the heck was Matt Niskanen doing so far up on his game-winning goal?

What the heck was Matt Niskanen doing so far up on his game-winning goal?

With the score tied at 2 and the seconds ticking away in the third period on Friday, the Capitals needed someone to step up and sneak one past Henrik Lundqvist. With less than four minutes left to go, someone finally delivered.

A long-range shot from Alex Ovechkin was stopped by Lundqvist, but Tom Wilson was able to tip the puck to a teammate sitting on the goal line for the tip-in and the go-ahead goal. That player was…a defenseman?

Yes, the player who was in position to tip the puck past Lundqvist was defenseman Matt Niskanen.

“It’s pretty unusual for me to be there,” Niskanen told reporters after the game.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST BREAKING DOWN THE CAPS' WIN OVER THE RANGERS

While Niskanen is certainly capable of putting up offensive numbers, he is not a Mike Green type of player who frequently jumps into the offense. So that begs the question, just what the heck was he doing so far up?

The play began with a drive to the net by Wilson.

You can see in the picture that Wilson is behind the net, Backstrom is in the faceoff circle and Alex Ovechkin is near the goal post. Three forwards, all in deep.

The Rangers try to clear the puck, but can’t and it trickles to Christian Djoos who is at the top of the faceoff circle.

Again, you see three forwards low, the defensemen high. Niskanen, who is not on the screen at this point, is on the right side near the blue line.

Rather than kicking the puck back to the offense for the normal cycle we see below the net so frequently from the Caps, Djoos instead glides to his right and passes to Backstrom who is coming up high in the zone as well.

This is what ultimately triggers the scoring play. With Djoos coming to his position and Backstrom covering where Djoos was, Niskanen decides to push forward into the attack.

Backstrom goes the same route Djoos just went moving to the right and Ovechkin continues the cycle as he goes high to the blue line and takes the pass from Backstrom. This is where Ovechkin decides to shoot and Lundqvist, who is dealing with both Wilson and Niskanen in his face, can’t hold onto the shot.

“Backstrom and Ovechkin were coming high so I was running out of space to stand,” Niskanen said. “It's a little rotation play that a lot of teams run now and we've been doing for a couple years now. First time it's worked out for me.”

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE RANGERS

Why don’t we see this more often? Because there is an inherent risk to having your forwards rotate with your defensemen at the blue line over the course of a game. If the Rangers had forced a turnover in that instance and forced a rush up ice, Backstrom and Ovechkin would have found themselves in a position in which they would have to serve as defensemen until Djoos and Niskanen were able to recover.

Notice here, however, the Rangers are not being too aggressive in attacking the puck or pressuring the puck carrier. With uncontested possession, it’s less likely the Caps will give up a turnover that could catch them out of position. Once they do contest the puck, Ovechkin fires the shot on net where Wilson and Niskanen are waiting.

The Caps ran the cycle to perfection and Niskanen was able to sneak into the play and get the goal.

“Obviously, it was a big shift and he was sniffing back door and the puck came to him,” Barry Trotz said. “That was fantastic."