Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as the Caps return home from a very successful 2-0-1 road trip to California, punctuated by Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Oh, What a Night: The numbers were staggering. More than 20 years since they last beat the Sharks in their own barn. An 0-11-1 record in San Jose since then. A 1-15-2 mark in their previous 18 games against the Sharks overall. In what could go down as a watershed game for the Capitals this season, emergency starter Braden Holtby turned aside 36 shots, including two in a shootout. As a result, the Caps became the first NHL team this season to skate out of California with five points in three games against the Ducks, Kings and Sharks.
How it happened: The Caps received a first-period goal from Eric Fehr and a third-period tally by Hershey Bears callup Chris Brown – both off Sharks players – to force overtime. The Caps dominated the extra period, outshooting the Sharks 5-0, but were forced to have the game decided in a shootout. The Caps had lost six straight shootouts since beating the Flyers on Dec. 15, but Evgeny Kuznetsov netted his second shootout goal in as many games and Nicklas Backstrom provide the game-winner, while Holtby stopped Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to pick up his first win since March 1 in Boston. The Caps are now 4-0-1 in their last five.
What it means: The Caps [34-27-11, 79 points] moved one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and into a tie with the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild-card spot. Columbus and Detroit have two games in hand on the Caps, who now have 10 games remaining. The Caps are also one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who also have 10 games remaining and are in a freefall with four straight losses. The New York Rangers also have 10 games remaining and are three points ahead of the Caps.
Holtby to the rescue: Caps goalie Jaroslav Halak was scheduled to make his eighth consecutive start, but a lower body injury prevented him for playing, forcing Holtby to play for the first time March 6. “Obviously, it was a challenge,” Holtby said. “You don't want to go too long without starting but we've been playing very well lately so it hasn't been an issue. I was given an opportunity to start tonight and I wanted to be there for the guys because they've been playing well. We came through again tonight.” Holtby is now 9-3 in career shootouts.
Who to root for today: Caps fans need to root for the Islanders to beat the visiting Blue Jackets at 1 p.m., then root for the Devils to beat the visiting Maple Leafs at 7 and the Minnesota Wild to win in Detroit at 7:30.
Caps’ look ahead: The Caps were given Sunday off and will return to the ice Monday at Kettler in preparation for Tuesday night’s game against the Kings at Verizon Center. The Caps close the season with five of their final 10 games on home ice. “We knew these were going to be some of the toughest games of the season coming out here [to California] with the way these guys are playing, so we did our job here,” Fehr said. “But we can’t let ourselves down at home now. We have to play well at home and continue to play a playoff-style game. We’ve had a lot less turnovers and we’ve played a greasier style of hockey, which has worked for us.”