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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals visit Sharks

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals visit Sharks

The Capitals (49-13-5,  103 points) finish their three-game California road trip tonight against the San Jose Sharks (37-24-6, 80 points) at SAP Center (10:30, CSN+). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

‘Garbage’ tank?: This will mark the Caps’ first visit to SAP Center this season. They have won their last two games at the Shark Tank, but don’t expect smooth sledding tonight. The ice at the 23-year-old arena was described as “garbage” by Sharks forward Logan Couture. 

The Sharks are an NHL best 25-9-3 on the road this season but 12-15-3 at home. 

“You can’t make excuses, both teams are playing on the same ice,” Couture said. “But if you ask opposing players, you’ll probably get the same answer that the ice is pretty garbage.”

Couture said the bad ice is most noticeable on teams’ power plays.

“You try and make a pass, and you can’t because it’s skipping everywhere,” he said. “Obviously our power play is one of the better ones in the league, and I think it’s affected our power play. You hate to make excuses, but the ice just isn’t good.”

Remember me? Joel Ward will be facing his old team for the second time this season. Ward signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract with the Sharks over the summer and has played in 65 of 67 games this season, netting 17 goals (four on the power play) and 19 assists. He’s averaging 17:12 in ice time and is a minus-8.

There may be some good-natured ribbing between Ward and good friend Jason Chimera, who has 17 goals (four on the power play) and 16 assists and is a plus-2 while averaging 13:56 of ice time.

Old friends: Sharks coach Peter DeBoer coached Mike Richards when both were with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. He once told me that in his opinion it was never a matter of whether Richards would win a Stanley Cup in his career, but how many. (He’s going for his third).

Slow starts: The Caps have scored the first goal in 31 of their 67 games this season and are 29-2-0 when doing so. But they have allowed the first goal 36 times this season and are 20-11-5 when doing so. The Caps have been outscored 53-48 in first periods this season.

Strong finishes: The Caps have outscored their opponents 73-46 in second periods and 87-51 in third periods. The Sharks have outscored their opponents in all three periods this season (56-51 in the first, 62-52 in the second and 72-68 in the third).

Special teams: The Caps rank second in the NHL on the power play (23.7) and fourth on the penalty kill (84.5). San Jose is seventh on the power play (21.9) and 22nd on the kill (79.6).

One for the road: The Capitals are 23-7-3 on the road this season (only the Sharks are better). They can tie their franchise record for road wins with a victory tonight. The 2009-10 Caps won 24 times on the road.

Holt-beast: Braden Holtby is one win shy of setting a franchise record for wins by a goalie. He is now tied with himself and Olie Kolzig with 41 wins. Holtby is two wins ahead of the pace set by Marty Brodeur in 2006-07 when he won an NHL record 48 games.  

Best Western: The Caps are 14-4-3 against Western Conference teams this season, outscoring their opponents 69-52 in those games.

Kuzy: Evgeny Kuznetsov picked up another assist Wednesday night against the Kings and now has 31 points in his last 26 games (7 goals, 24 assists). Kuznetsov is the first Capitals player since Alex Ovechkin in 2010-11 (32 goals, 53 assists) to record at least 20 goals and 45 assists in a season. Kuznetsov leads the NHL in primary assists (36), plus/minus (plus-30) and assists per 60 minutes (2.45).

Heating up: Andre Burakovsky has 23 points in his last 26 games (10 goals, 13 assists). 

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came at the 2:30 mark of the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby. On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life. The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.