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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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Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby has been here before. Every goalie in the NHL has good stretches and bad. Really, one thing that defines a goalie is how they overcome those bad stretches. Holtby had perhaps the greatest rebound a goalie could ever have, going from losing his starting job to Philipp Grubauer in 2018 to taking back the crease in the playoffs and leading the team to a Stanley Cup.

But could this year be different?

A poor start is one thing, but there are also other external factors that may be contributing.

In five games this season, Holtby has a .846 save percentage and 4.27 GAA. His save percentage is the worst among all goalies with at least four starts and his GAA is the second-worst behind only Devan Dubnyk’ s 4.56. It’s a small sample size, but those are horrific numbers made worse by Monday’s performance in which he allowed three goals on three shots before being pulled.

“It was a tough game for Braden and I think he'll be the first one to admit it,” Todd Reirden said after practice on Tuesday. “That's a game I think he'd like to do some things different. I think our team could have played closer to our identity than we did to give him a better chance to have success. But the good thing is he's accountable to it, he knows. He's accountable to himself, he's accountable to his teammates, he's accountable to everybody that he can be better than that and when he gets that chance he will.”

But will he?

Just 16 months removed from overcoming the worst stretch of his career and hoisting the Stanley Cup and still only 30 years old, it seems premature to declare Holtby as finished or to assume he won’t be able to dig himself out of this hole.

“Usually it's just getting back to the basics of things,” Holtby said when asked about overcoming a slump. “A lot of times when things are going your way, you're usually pushing forward too fast and make things [instead] of just letting them come to you. It's just getting back to the basics of playing, trusting your instincts and not letting it affect you. Just go out and play.”

“In times like these - good or bad - it's usually not as good as you think or not as bad as you think,” he added. “You just have to get yourself back to that level mentally where you can break things down and see just those little areas that might be just off a bit that could be the difference.”

But there are two external factors that could be putting pressure on Holtby mentally.

First, this year is the final year of Holtby’s contract. Playing in a contract year can be tough and Holtby certainly would not be the first player to succumb to the pressure that comes with an uncertain future. The second is that his replacement, Ilya Samsonov is now backing him up and doing a pretty darn good job with it.

In three appearances this season, Samsonov, 22, has a .944 save percentage and 1.43 GAA. He was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2015 and the fact that his first season in the NHL happens to be the last of Holtby’s contract is impossible not to notice.

Holtby was asked if his contract or Samsonov’s presence was affecting him mentally.

“I don’t know, I just think it's wanting to win, wanting to get a good start, maybe getting a little ahead of myself,” he said. “In ways, trying to push too hard. Just take a deep breath and just go out and play. I mean, it's seven games in. A couple months, you won't even remember this conversation. You just stick to the process and keep doing what you think you can do to help the team win.”

“When you break it down like that, who his backup is, yes it is a different scenario,” Reirden said. “The one scenario that isn't different is that I still have plenty of confidence in him. Lots of confidence in him. He's been through this before. We saw that in the Stanley Cup year and then he ends up taking over and helping us win the Stanley Cup and be a huge part of it.”

While Reirden still professes his confidence in Holtby, the recent struggles as well as Samsonov’s strong play have at least given him pause.

Following Monday’s loss, Reirden said of Samsonov, “He's doing what he's supposed to be doing, and that's to make it like a decision every night of who's going to be considered to play that game.”

Reirden also would not commit to naming a starter for Wednesday’s game against a star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs team, but he seemed to be leaning towards Samsonov to give Holtby time to reset. At least that’s what it sounded like.

“Much like every player, goalies will go through situations like this and I'm sure that's how [Holtby] feels about the start to the year. I'm confident that we've got a few practices here, he gets to reset and work with [goalie coach] Scott Murray and get things settled in and then he's ready to go again.”

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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