Home Cooking Gone Bad – For the better part of the last five seasons, Washington has been a dominant home ice team. The Caps went 122-35-21 over a stretch of 178 home games from Nov. 24, 2007 through Jan. 15, 2012.
With tonight’s 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center, Washington has now won just two of its last half-dozen games at home (2-3-1). A skid over that small of a sample size wouldn’t normally be such a cause for alarm, but the Caps have struggled mightily on the road this season, winning just seven of their last 25 (7-15-3) away from Verizon Center and winning just a third of its road games on the season to date.
To make matters worse, the Caps will play five of their next six games on the road, doing so at a critical juncture of the season when they are on the outside looking in on the Stanley Cup playoff picture.
Having a hiccup on home ice at a time in which they have won just two of their last nine road games (2-5-2) and haven’t won a road game against a team currently in the top eight in either conference in more than two months (Dec. 7 at Ottawa).
Overpowered – The Capitals’ penalty killing unit on home ice had been a strong point for the team for most of the season, but not so much of late. Washington has now surrendered at least one power play goal in six of its last eight games on home ice, and is just 23-for-33 (69.7%) on the kill in those eight games.
In their last two home games, the Capitals are an anemic 4-for-9 (44.4%) on the penalty kill.
Special teams are on the docket to be addressed in practice this week.
“[We will] work on our special teams the next two or three days of practice,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. The penalty kill and power play, too. We’ve got to get more goals off our power play to counter what they do on the [penalty kill].”
San Jose has now scored at least one power play goal in eight of its last 10 games and the Sharks are 13-for-32 (40.7%) during that span.
Lineup Shuffle – With Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun still battling the flu, the Capitals used one of their two emergency goaltender recall exemptions to bring up netminder Braden Holtby from AHL Hershey on Monday. Holtby learned of his recall on Monday morning and found out he’d be starting upon arriving at Verizon Center.
“I knew there was a chance of it last night after the game in Hershey,” says Holtby. “I found out I was coming up this morning. I was trying to approach it like any other game. Obviously there are different factors that go into it. I was trying to approach it the same. It was a tough game, but you can’t change it now.”
Holtby was up briefly with Washington early this season but did not get into a game. He was 10-2-2 with two shutouts, a 1.79 GAA and a .934 save pct. in 14 games with Washington last season.
Holtby got a baptism by fire on Monday against San Jose. He faced the Sharks’ hot power play early in the game and San Jose got some bonus extra-man time as it controlled the puck for about a minute on the delayed penalty.
“It was good to get the feel for things right off the start,” says Holtby of that early sequence in which he was peppered with extra-man shots. “There were some funny bounces tonight. It’s just one of those games that you have to go back and look at some film and make sure that I improve next time.”
One of those funny bounces beat Holtby for San Jose’s first goal. A Dan Boyle blast from outside the red line clipped Sharks forward Joe Pavelski and took a wacky carom toward the Caps’ net just past the midpoint of the first frame.
“It was just a slapshot that was kind of going high,” says Holtby. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to miss high. It got deflected straight down, bounced by the hash marks area and bounced straight up. I though I reacted fairly well to it; it just hit me in the weird spot in my glove and it kind of popped over.”
Holtby had company on the ride from Hershey. Forward Joel Rechlicz was also recalled on Monday. Rechlicz played in the Caps’ first two road games after the All-Star break before being sent back down. He made his home ice debut on Monday, skating 1:30 in just two shifts while also drawing a 10-minute misconduct penalty during one of his lengthy stints on the bench.
Although the Caps haven’t won any of the three games for which Rechlicz has dressed, Hunter felt as though the forward’s presence in the lineup had a positive effect on Monday.
“They have that [Brad] Winchester,” notes Hunter. “You guys were at the game [in San Jose]. He ran over [Alexander] Semin and [Alex Ovechkin] had to jump in. Winchester wasn’t a factor out there tonight.”
Shoot ‘Em Up – For the first time this season (and yes, that includes the 22 games in which Bruce Boudreau was behind the Washington bench at the beginning of the 2011-12 season) the Caps have fired 60 or more shots toward the opposing net in each of three straight games. Washington launched 76 shots tonight, getting 42 on goal, having 22 blocked and having another dozen miss the net altogether.
Tonight’s 76-shot barrage was Washington’s highest output since it fired 76 shots toward the Oilers’ net in a 2-1 loss at Edmonton on Oct. 27.
The Capitals’ total of 42 shots on goal is the most the team has managed since it got 44 on net in a 5-3 win over the Senators in Ottawa on Dec. 7.
Offense From The Defense – All three Washington goals came from defensemen. Dmitry Orlov and Roman Hamrlik each netted their second of the season and Jeff Schultz scored his first of the season and first since March 18, 2011.
“I think I faked [Greiss] out,” says Schultz of his goal. “I think he thought I was going to go far post and I snuck it in there short side.”
Missing Vokoun – Vokoun has been very good in goal for Washington for most of this season, but especially since the All-Star break. He has allowed just nine goals in his last five starts, but has just two wins to show for it (2-1-2). Vokoun has a 1.76 GAA and a .943 save pct. in those five starts.
These last two games were the first consecutive games in which Vokoun did not appear since he did not play in four straight contests from Dec. 15-23. These last two games were also the first consecutive games in which the Caps did not gain at least a point since Jan. 7-9 when they suffered consecutive road losses in San Jose and Los Angeles, respectively.
Cap Killer – Whenever Winnipeg’s Evander Kane does any offensive damage against the Capitals, scribes of all ilk waste no time in noting his prowess as a Cap-killer. It’s as predictable as the sun rising, and fair, because Kane has eight goals and 10 points in 13 career games against Washington.
Kane has nothing on the Sharks’ Pavelski, however.
With his two-goal, four-point performance in Monday’s game against the Caps, Pavelski now has five goals and nine points in seven career games against Washington.
Fortunately for the Caps, they don’t see the Sharks as often as they see the Jets.
Got Their Number – Washington’s ongoing lack of success against the Sharks in San Jose has been well-documented; the Caps haven’t won on the road against the Sharks since Oct. 30, 1993. The Capitals have been outscored 46-23 over the life of a current 12-game losing streak (0-11-1) in the Shark Tank.
The Caps haven’t had much success against the Sharks in their own barn, either.
San Jose has won eight of its last nine games in Washington, outscoring the Caps 30-20 in the process. The Capitals are 1-7-1 against the Sharks in their last nine visits to the District.
Overall, the Caps are 1-15-1 in their last 17 meetings with San Jose. The Sharks have outscored Washington by a combined 62-34 in those 17 games.
Down On The Farm – The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays were in action for a rare Monday night tilt against the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Coliseum. South Carolina rebounded from a 3-0 hole – and a 3-1 third-period deficit – to eke out a 4-3 win, outshooting the ‘Blades by a whopping 50-27 in the process.
Twenty of those shots came in the third when South Carolina scored three times to overtake the Everblades. The Stingrays scored all four goals in the span of 12:36 from late in the second period to midway through the final frame.
Matt Scherer, Trent Campbell, Zach Tarkir and Maxime Lacroix scored the Stingrays’ four unanswered goals. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves to run his record to 19-11-1-1 on the season.
The 29-21-1-1 Stingrays are third in the ECHL’s South Division, five points behind front-running Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin paced the Caps with four hits, 26:45 in ice time and 7:25 in power play ice time … San Jose had 13 shots on net in its six power play tries while Washington managed seven in its four extra-man opportunities … Eleven different Sharks combined to block a total of 22 Washington shots … Eleven different Capitals and eight different Sharks took at least one face-off in the game. Rechlicz was the only Washington forward not to take at least one draw.