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The Capitals wrapped up their California road trip with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Although San Jose is a good, not great, team with a poor home record, no East team had even earned a point at all three of Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose this season — it's a tough trio of games. That trend continued, and Sharks completed a regular season sweep of Washington.
Check back for our full recap later, but first, here's Saturday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: The fourth line. Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik (along with Mike Richards earlier in the game, Tom Wilson later) played a simple, yet effective, game, getting the puck going in the right direction, winning board battles, and driving the net. Beagle even drew a shorthanded penalty shot late in the second period.
- Minus: The start of the third period. Washington gave up two goals and bled quality scoring chances for nearly half the period. Although the Caps tightened up defensively, they still struggled to put passes together, and San Jose was in cruise control for the rest of the game.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
- The game started slowly, with neither team really getting any good looks (save one at the side of the net by the Sharks on a power play). In terms of the Caps starting slowly and allowing the first goal, this was progress.
- Then Joe Thornton happened. Matt Niskanen's reversal for Karl Alzner on a dump-in retrieval was too strong, leading to a point shot from Brenden Dillon. Thornton scored on the rebound. In case you're keeping track, that's 13 of 15 games now in which the Caps have allowed the first goal.
- The Caps started the second period on the power play, and after Brent Burns took a delay-of-game penalty, had a 5-on-3 for about 90 seconds - and made it count. A rotation by Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen opened up a passing lane through the Sharks' triangle, and Nicklas Backstrom used it to find T.J. Oshie for a one-timer to tie the game. It was Oshie's 21st goal of the season, tying a career high he set in 2013-14.
- San Jose responded with a shorthanded marker. Washington went back on the power play after Oshie's goal, and seconds in, Ovechkin had a great chance on a backdoor pass. But later in the power play, Dmitry Orlov and Justin Williams fumbled the puck at the blueline, leading to a 2-on-0 for Patrick Marleau and old friend Joel Ward, who fed Marleau for the goal.
- The Caps had a strong second period, shorthanded goal notwithstanding, and tied the game again courtesy of a Sharks offensive blueline turnover. Evgeny Kuznetsov poked an errant Thornton pass up to Andre Burakovsky, who sped into the zone and made a pretty short return pass to Kuznetsov along the wall. Kuznetsov rifled a pass to the far post for a Justin Williams swat-in.
- Kuznetsov had an eventful second. In addition to the assist, he almost had another, feeding Schmidt on a center-lane drive deflection attempt that Martin Jones stopped. Kuznetsov also took a minor penalty in the final minute, on which Beagle took advantage of a Sharks turnover to draw a penalty shot. He was poke-checked by Jones, however.
- The Caps entered the third period - their best period this season, by far - tied at 2. They looked to be on their way to finishing killing Kuznetsov's minor. But Joe Pavelski's backhander from in close got through Grubauer's body, giving the Sharks the lead - and, perhaps more importantly, a good deal of life.
- San Jose dominated the first half of the third period. After Pavelski scored, Marc-Edouard Vlasic fed Melker Karlsson on a 2-on-1 that should have resulted in a goal. Nick Spaling hit the post. Brenden Dillon's point shot found the top corner past a screened Grubauer. Marleau got another great chance in front, and then Grubauer made a great glove save on Logan Couture - all before the period was even seven minutes old.
- Although the Caps tightened up defensively, they couldn't turn that into offense. They had trouble exiting the zone as San Jose, flipping the script, did a nice job taking away the walls and making it difficult to string together passes in any zone. Vlasic and Justin Braun continued to completely neutralize Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie at 5-on-5, while the Kuznetsov line - dynamic in the first 40 minutes - was quiet in the final 20 as well.
- The Caps got some nice looks from the high slot with the goalie pulled, but Jones made the saves, and eventually, Brent Burns scored an empty-netter.
The Capitals played a pretty good first forty minutes on Saturday. But their third was uninspiring. One could speculate as to the reasons why, but the bottom line is, while the team could certainly make a deep playoff run with one mediocre or subpar period a game, it's harder to see it making a deep playoff run with one poor period a game. Often the first, but this time the third, it's become commonplace, and each additional time it happens, it's harder to avoid getting increasingly worried.
They'll have a couple of days to work on it. On to host Carolina on Tuesday.