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Takeaways: Capitals’ Scoring Struggles Continue, Flaws Show In Loss To Sharks

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Capitals forward Daniel Sprong

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Washington Capitals saw frustration start to boil over on Wednesday, as their flaws were evident against the San Jose Sharks. The Capitals let San Jose jump out to an early lead and found themselves chasing the game yet again, and ultimately, it cost them.

Despite a lone strike from Daniel Sprong and upped the ante over the course of the game, Washington couldn’t execute in a rough 4-1 loss to the Sharks. The team has now dropped eight of its last 11 decisions.

“There’s some [chances] that seem like they should be going in there… the last 50 minutes, I think we’re capable of playing better than we did,” head coach Peter Laviolette said postgame. “There’s room for improvement.”

Here are all the takeaways from the defeat:

Capitals See Another Slow Start

As has been a bit of a pattern over the last couple of games, Washington again failed to generate a lot to open the first period. By the eight-minute mark, the Capitals were being outshot 12-3, with the Sharks able to force turnovers and maintain possession, while shutting down Washington in the neutral zone and breaking up plays. San Jose also did a lot to generate a lot in the offensive zone.

“They were a lot better than us to start the game… they were just better than us, plain and simple. We got our emotion into it and more speed with more attitude in the last 10 minutes of the first,” Lars Eller said.

The Capitals were able to turn up the heat toward the end of the frame. The top-6 provided a lot of that boost, as the top trio of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were able to provide a spark with physicality — Ovechkin led Washington with four hits in the first — and get some good looks while logging a lot of zone time. Plus, Conor Sheary’s tenacity with the puck, as well as smart passing from Nicklas Backstrom and decent shots from Daniel Sprong led to a couple more chances. However, James Reimer was able to shut the door and stop all eight shots against in the first.

Washington Ups Pressure, But Power-Play Woes Continue

To open the second, the Capitals hit the ground running, coming out with much more aggression and tilting the ice in their favor. However, the Sharks would strike again, with Nicolas Meloche burying his first NHL goal on a dart that Ilya Samsonov may want to have back. From that point on, though, Washington would pick up the pressure and start getting some opportunities.

The Capitals also drew some good penalties for two critical power plays, but their struggles continued on the man advantage. They managed three shots on goal and went 0-for-3, and are now 0-for-16 over their last five games.

It has been a struggle for a majority of the season, but with a lack of scoring at even strength, the PP needs to find twine sooner rather than later.

“It’s tough. It’s tough as a player, I’m sure it’s tough as a coach, too. You have high expectations of yourself… [it’s] something we have to deal with,” Carlson said of the current frustration level with regard to the lack of offense.

At even strength, the chances were there, but the Capitals missed the net on quite a few looks and also couldn’t pick up rebounds. Ovechkin ended up with a whopping eight shots on goal as Washington outshot San Jose 33-30 in the end.

“It’s like we’re pressing and pressing, and it’s just not coming easy for us right now. We have to work really hard for our goals right now,” Eller added.

Sprong Springs After Three Games As Scratch

Daniel Sprong got the message after being a healthy scratch for the last three games and made the most of his return to play. The Netherlands native was tied for the team lead in shots (three) heading into the third. Finally, his fourth found twine, as he rocketed a dart off a clean face-off win by Nicklas Backstrom.

Sprong now has seven goals and 12 points on the season and put an end to a five-game scoreless skid with his first strike since Jan. 8 in St. Louis. The 24-year-old also lived up to Peter Laviolette’s expectations, playing a strong 200-foot while also backchecking and getting involved physically.

Through 13:34 minutes, Sprong picked up a tally, four shots and three hits, and he was a plus-1, and he said that he felt good and confident in his return.

Backstrom Stays Hot For Capitals

Since returning to the lineup full time, Nicklas Backstrom has been the spark the Capitals have needed. The 34-year-old now has nine points through 11 games this season and has registered a point in seven of those outings this season.

Backstrom is also winning key face-offs, moving the puck well and getting back up to speed with each game. He is getting to those high-danger areas and making smart plays, and he appears to have picked up right where he left off with his vintage playmaking ability.

Through 20:24 minutes, Backstrom dished a shot, a hit and a takeaway and won six of 14 draws (43 percent).

Sammi’s Top Shelf Takes

  • In his first start since Jan. 16, Samsonov came up big at times and finished with 27 saves on 30 shots, including a key breakaway stop late in the third with the Capitals trailing by one. However, there were a couple of goals that he may have liked to have back. He also a scary moment late in the third after Ovechkin fell into him, knocking the net off its moorings, but he stayed in.
  • Michal Kempny had a strong game and didn’t hesitate to join the rush, something the Capitals needed while trailing 2-0. He was tied for Sprong and Kuznetsov for second on the team with four shots and picked up two hits and two blocks through 17:06 minutes.
  • Garnet Hathaway laid on the physicality, leading the way with eight hits and dropping the gloves with Jonah Gadjovich at the buzzer. Ovechkin had seven.
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