Washington's three-game California road trip got off to an inauspicious start on Thursday night in San Jose. The Caps lost the special teams battle decisively, and that was the difference in a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Sharks.
San Jose scored a pair of power play goals and added another at the exact second at which a Sharks power play expired. The Caps had five power play opportunities of their own, but failed to score with the extra man.
Video: WSH Recap: Winnik, Connolly score in 4-2 loss
"If you look at the five-on-five chances, I didn't think [the Sharks] were able to generate a lot, other than on special teams," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "They were talking [before the game] about how they did a lot of work on them, and they were moving the puck, and they found a way to find the back of the net. Good teams find ways to win, and they found a way to win tonight."
Sluggish starts have plagued the Caps recently, but Washington came out of the gates well in Thursday's game.
Before the contest was three minutes old, Alex Ovechkin sprung T.J. Oshie on an early breakaway with a head-manning feed, but Oshie's backhand bid went over the net. Seconds later, the Caps earned the game's first power play when the Sharks' Joe Pavelski hauled Oshie down.
The Caps couldn't cash in with the extra man, but they did so just eight seconds after the Pavelski penalty expired to take a 1-0 lead. Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle did yeoman's work to win the puck behind the San Jose cage, and the latter pushed a perfect pass to the front for Daniel Winnik. Winnik lifted a nifty backhander to the top shelf to stake the Caps to a 1-0 lead at 5:26.
Video: WSH@SJS: Winnik flips in a backhand for early lead
Like most rare Caps leads in their sordid history at the Shark Tank, this one was short-lived. Less than 200 seconds later, Ovechkin wasn't able to bump the puck out of the Washington zone from up high along the right wing wall, and Sharks center Joe Thornton quickly made him and the Caps pay, scoring from the slot at 8:43 to make it a 1-1 game.
Washington nearly went back on top late in the first when Marcus Johansson made a great play to set up Evgeny Kuznetsov at the back door on a rush, but Sharks goalie Martin Jones got over and stopped the backhand bid.
Late in the first, Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik went to the box for a hi-sticking double minor. Washington killed off that four-minute power play only to surrender a goal at the exact expiration of the infraction, a Joe Pavelski deflection of a Brent Burns shot at 2:32 of the second period that lifted the Sharks to a 2-1 lead. Pavelski deflected the puck through the five-hole of Caps goalie Braden Holtby, and that goal stood out as one he'd liked to have stopped.
"I think that was our best kill of the night, too," says Holtby. "Those four minutes, I thought we did a really good job. On that point, that's up to me to make that save for what that those guys did for those three minutes and 59 seconds. That's something I'll work on to make sure I don't do it again."
Washington pulled even on a pretty give-and-go play after a transition in neutral ice. Brett Connolly carried into San Jose ice, worked the give-and-go with Kevin Shattenkirk, and then finished with a backhand redirection to make it a 2-2 game at 14:40 of the second.
Video: WSH@SJS: Connolly nets give-and-go with Shattenkirk
With 2:02 remaining in the second, Beagle was sent to the box for tripping. With one of their top penalty killers and best face-off men in the box, the Caps surrendered what would prove to be the go-ahead goal just six seconds later.
Pavelski beat Lars Eller on the ensuing face-off, and Holtby stopped a Burns shot only to have Logan Couture quickly bury the rebound for a 3-2 San Jose lead at 18:04 of the second.
Washington got a chance to pull even when Melker Karlsson was busted for slashing seconds later, but once again the Caps were denied on the carryover power play and the Sharks carried their one-goal lead into the third.
Karl Alzner was sent off for tripping Pavelski at 7:08 of the third, and the Sharks tacked on an insurance tally less than a minute later when Couture tipped a Burns shot past Holtby for his second power-play goal of the game.
Washington knew it would need to account for Burns in this game, but the league's leading scorer among defensemen collected three primary assists in the game. Two of them came on the power play and the other just as the power play expired, but all three came as a direct result of his frequently lethal point shot.
Video: Caps players talk after a 4-2 loss in San Jose
"That's part of it," says Alzner. "You don't want to let him just shoot it on net. That's what everybody knows. But today, he was the passer; he was the shot/tip guy looking for a lane. I think that's part of the reason why he's dangerous, because you've got to respect the shot, the same way as with Ovi. You've got to respect the shot, and if you don't respect it, he scores. If you do, he looks for another lane.
"Guys that have good tools like that, the way to keep it is to keep it away from them and we didn't do that tonight."
San Jose recorded its 40th win of the season, and the Sharks have now earned at least a point in 20 of their last 23 games (15-3-5). Washington is now 11-24-1-3 all-time against the Sharks, and it is 5-13-1-0 all-time in San Jose. The Caps have won just two of their last 16 visits here, and have not won in regulation in San Jose since Oct. 30, 1993.
Video: Barry Trotz talks after a 4-2 loss to the Sharks
The Capitals have dropped two straight games in regulation for just the third time in the last two seasons, and the first time since Nov. 26-Dec. 1. The trip continues with a tough set of back-to-back contests in Los Angeles and Anaheim on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.