With one more game left on a West Coast swing that had already produced more points than many observers would have expected, the Caps headed to a city in which they hadn't won since 1993 to face the Pacific Division-leading Sharks... and won, 3-2 in a shootout. It's late, so let's jump right in.
Eleven more notes on the game:
- In a surprise to everyone not privy to such insider information, Braden Holtby got the start for the Caps with Jaroslav Halak apparently sidelined with a lower-body injury. And despite not having started in forever (give or take), Holtby was sharp, stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced. What this means going forward is anyone's guess, but it was good to see Holtby get thrown into the fire and not get burned.
- Around six minutes into the game, Tom Wilson drew a penalty in his defensive zone (after a Grade-A scoring chance for the Sharks, but the Caps did nothing with the ensuing power-play. As in, not a single shot on goal. In a game like this, in a place like that, when gifted an opportunity to gain some early momentum, you'd like to see... something positive.
- Minutes later, Sharks defenseman Justin Braun tried to clear a puck from in front of his own net, but it hit San Jose winger Matt Nieto and bounced directly into the Sharks net. Not bad. The goal was credited to Eric Fehr, and was yet another five-on-five goal for which at least one member of the third line was on the ice (that makes 13 of the last 16), and in this case it was all three, who may have benefited from a fluky bounce, but deserve credit for having created the havoc that preceded it.
- Seconds before the first period was set to expire and send the Caps to the locker room with a 1-0 lead, Mike Green turned the puck over behind his own net on a soft attempted backhanded pass to Jack Hillen and the Sharks were able to get it out in front of and then quickly behind Holtby with less than six ticks left on the clock. In a season full of soul-crushing mistakes, this one rates pretty high.
- One of the things that has helped the Caps run off a string of four-straight games earning at least a point entering Saturday night's game (3-0-1) has been a strong penalty kill - 14-for-14 in those four games, and 16-for-16 in the last five. And while the penalty killing was perfect, the discipline was pretty good as well, allowing just about three power-plays per night (and only allowing more than that against Anaheim). The Caps continued the trend on Saturday night, going shorthanded just three times and killing all three, including a late-third high-stick on Alex Ovechkin.
The Caps are a mediocre (at best) puck possession team. The Sharks are super there. One of the reasons (but far from the only or maybe even a hugely significant reason) for that is the fact that the Sharks are a terrific team in the face-off circle, while the Caps are mediocre (at best) there. The Sharks dominated possession for most of the game and the faceoff dot for nearly all of it, winning 45 of the game's 65 draws, and no Cap topped 40%.
- In the waning moments of the second period, Jason Chimera found his way under Marc-Edouard Vlasic's skin and drew a high-sticking penalty, the bulk of which would be served at the start of the third period. So what did the Caps do with their latest golden opportunity? Better, perhaps, but nothing to write home about. When the power-play doesn't click for this team, they're in trouble (which is hardly breaking news).
- Reality check: Jay Beagle centering Alex Ovechkin was Adam Oates knowing that if he didn't bulk up the top line's defensive bona fides before heading out on the road, the Ducks', Kings' and Sharks' top lines would eat the Caps' top trio alive... right? Because he's essentially neutered Ovechkin at even-strength (not that the captain had much of anything going on before the road trip), but the hemorrhaging of goals-against has abated (even if the play hasn't). All of that said, if Beagle is Ovechkin's center on Tuesday night back at Verizon Center... well, we'll jump off of that bridge when we get to it.
- Early in the third, Chimera had the puck in the offensive zone and was skating away from the net, so he decided to turn and throw the puck toward the San Jose net (in retrospect, the boards were a safer option). Unfortunately, he put it right into James Sheppard's shin pads and the Sharks' forward was sprung on a two-thirds-of-the-ice breakaway that he'd convert. Holtby needed to come up big and he didn't... on a dude who had all of two goals in 56 games coming in.
- Despite being nearly doubled in shots on goal, the Caps tied the game on a second fortuitous bounce when Chris Brown scored his first NHL goal midway through the third. Brown now has as many goals for the Caps this season as the guy for whom he was traded, Martin Erat.
- For a second-straight game, the Caps took a better team to the shootout, but this time, the result was favorable, as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom scored and Holtby stopped two of three shots. Game. Over.
And so the Caps head home with five of a possible six points from their trip to Cali. Pretty unbelievable, really. But the pressure on them is still very much on, the margin of error still tiny and they're not getting much help. Does this look like a team capable of playing nearly error-free hockey down the stretch? Nope. But with this team, you never quite know what's going to happen, do you?