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Special teams look anything but for Caps in loss to Sharks

Special teams look anything but for Caps in loss to Sharks

Final Score: Washington Capitals 2, San Jose Sharks 4

How it happened: The Caps and Sharks traded goals into the second period, but with the score tied at two, Logan Couture took over. Couture scored twice, both on the power play, to separate the Sharks and give them the 4-2 win. You don't have to look too hard to figure out what the difference was in this one. Washington failed to score on five power play opportunities while San Jose scored three times with the extra man.

What it means: Thursday’s loss marks the first time the Caps have lost consecutive games since returning from the bye week. It is also just the third time Washington has lost consecutive games in regulation all season. The Caps have not beaten the Sharks in regulation since 2009 and have not won in San Jose in regulation since 1993.

Goals

Caps goal: Daniel Winnik from Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle at 5:26 in the first period. Beagle and Wilson battled for the puck along the boards down low and Beagle found Daniel Winnik with the backhand pass away from the crowd. Winnik had an open lane and scored on the backhand shot. Caps 1, Sharks 0

Sharks goal: Joe Thornton from Jannik Hansen and Paul Martin at 8:43 in the first period. Ovechkin lost the puck on a sweep check as he tried to exit the defensive zone and Martin sent the puck behind the net. Hansen took it and found a streaking Thornton for the goal. Caps 1, Sharks 1

Sharks goal: Joe Pavelski (power play) from Brent Burns and Joe Thornton at 2:32 in the second period. Just as a double-minor penalty to Brooks Orpik was about to expire, Brent Burns fired a long-range shot that was redirected by Pavelski to beat Holtby. Caps 1, Sharks 2

Caps goal: Brett Connolly from Kevin Shattenkirk at 14:40 in the second period. Connolly and Shattenkirk went back and forth on the rush with Shattenkirk feeding Connolly right in front for the tip-in. Caps 2, Sharks 2

Sharks goal: Logan Couture (power play) from Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns at 18:04 in the second period. Holtby stopped a shot form Burns with the glove, but couldn't hang on to the shot allowing Couture the chance to fire in the rebound. Caps 2, Sharks 3

Sharks goal: Logan Couture (power play) from Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns at 8:05 in the third period. A shot from Burns was headed wide of the net, but Couture was there to redirect it into the back of the net. Caps 2, Sharks 4

3 stars

1. Logan Couture:  Couture entered Thursday's game leading San Jose in power play goals with eight. He added two more to that tally on Thursday, taking what was a tie game and putting the Sharks in complete control.

2. Joe Thornton: On a night in which the Sharks honored Thornton for earning his 1,000th assist, Thornton scored the Sharks' first goal of the game a little over three minutes after Winnik gave Washington the early lead. Thornton was very active on the forecheck and was a presence for the Sharks all night.

3. Kevin Shattenkirk: Shattenkirk was very active Thursday. Not only did he record an assist on Connolly's goal, he also hit the post on a shot of his own, laid out Hansen with a monster hip check and recorded a game-high five shots on goal.

Look ahead: The Caps continue the California trip on Saturday in Los Angeles. They then wrap things up on Sunday in Anaheim and return home for a Tuesday game against Bruce Boudreau’s Minnesota.

Tell us what you think: The Caps entered Thursday's game ranked 6th on the power play and 4th on the penalty kill. Yet, the Caps could not score on five opportunities with the extra man. Washington also yielded three power play goals to a struggling Sharks power play. Are you concerned with the Caps' special teams or was this just a blip on the radar?

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Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

WASHINGTON — It had been nine years since Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom last had a four-point game in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That was a different time, an era when Backstrom and his teammates too often faltered under the weight of enormous expectations.  That’s all gone now. There is a Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters at Capital One Arena to prove it. Now they can all just play. 

With teammate T.J. Oshie hurt and likely out for the season, Backstrom continued to raise his own game in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He had two goals and two assists in a 6-0 thrashing as Washington took a 3-2 series lead and pushed the Hurricanes to the brink of elimination. Alex Ovechkin added a goal and two assists.  

Backstrom’s last four-point playoff games was April 17, 2010. He had a hat trick that night and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. 

“That was probably Montreal, right?” Backstrom said before confessing. “Yeah, Ovi told me. He remembers everything.”

Those were darker days. The Capitals blew a 3-1 series lead against Montreal that year and maybe the best team of the Ovechkin era went out in the first round despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy. No wonder Backstrom needed help remembering. 

There is no such issue this season. The 31-year-old Swede is carrying the Capitals, who are one game away from advancing. It was his second two-goal game of the series. He has five total, which matches his career high for one playoff series set in 2010 against the Canadiens. He and Ovechkin, who has seven points in the series (three goals, four assists) set a tone and their teammates followed. 

"In all areas, too,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “Obviously they got on the point sheet, but their play away from the puck, on the forecheck, supporting each other, they're real tough to play against when they play like that and I thought they've been doing a great job all playoffs, too.”

Backstrom’s five goals matched what he had all last postseason when the Caps won the Cup. He missed games because of a broken finger, but still played in 20 and had five goals and 18 assists. He matched his total output of eight points in 2009 against Pittsburgh and 2018 against Columbus. His career best is again that Montreal series when he had nine points. Not that he cares about that now. None of the Caps do. If the production leads to wins and advancing to the second round, that’s all that matters.  

“It’s good for the confidence I think. But it’s going to be a different game in Carolina,” Backstrom said. “We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward. That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”

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Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

WASHINGTON – On a night in which the Capitals erupted for six goals against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, goalie Braden Holtby’s contributions were largely overshadowed. Nicklas Backstrom scored his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs in a four-point night while Alex Ovechkin added a goal and three points of his own. Even Nic Dowd got into the mix as he scored Washington’s first penalty shot goal in playoff history.

When a team wins a game 6-0, it is easy to discount the contribution of the goalie and assume the offense carried the team. That was not the case on Saturday as Holtby played a pivotal role in Washington taking back control of its first-round series.

And he set a franchise record doing it.

With 30 saves, Holtby recorded his seventh career playoff shutout passing Olie Kolzig’s previous franchise record of six. Holtby now stands alone with the most postseason shutouts in team history.

But you won’t see him celebrating too hard.

“It means I’m getting old,” Holtby said.

Holtby may be the only goalie in the world who does not seem to care about shutouts. He has been consistent on this point throughout his career, always saying that shutouts only matter because it means he helped put the team in a position to win.

When it comes to individual accolades, however, Holtby is just not interested.

When asked what holding Carolina scoreless on Saturday did for his confidence, Holtby was blunt.

"Nothing,” he said. “It's a win. We regroup, we know they're going to come harder next game and we'll focus on that."

As focused as Holtby seemed to be after the game, was just as focused in it on Saturday as he turned in his best performance of the series. Despite the final score, the game was close halfway through with Washington clinging to a one-goal lead. Holtby was brilliant between the pipes, however, especially in the second period as Washington faced three straight power plays. He turned aside 15 shots in the middle frame alone to help the Caps keep their lead and eventually run away with the win.

“Our goaltender was tremendous,” Todd Reirden said. “Those things, if you can have the special teams and your goaltender at that type of a level then you're going to give yourself a real good chance to have success.”

The offense stole the headlines after Saturday’s win, but that’s a result the Caps do not get without Holtby’s record-setting performance in net.

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