SAN JOSE, Calif. — History might not matter to these Washington Capitals: 18 years without a victory in San Jose.
But Saturday night provided yet another troubling example of this team’s inability to win on the road in a 5-2 loss to the Sharks at HP Pavilion.
“I’m only worried about this one right now,” coach Dale Hunter said. “We didn’t win tonight, and we’ve got to regroup.”
Outskated for much of the night and dominated in their own zone, the Caps suffered their 12th defeat away from home in 19 chances. They’re 3-6-1 in their past 10 road games, and this one snapped a four-game winning streak.
Road woes are certainly nothing new for this team, but the Sharks put on a clinic of how to play aggressive, forechecking hockey and prevented the Caps from putting up much of a fight.
The same kind of mistakes that have plagued Washington throughout its struggles on the road all season resurfaced Saturday night at the Shark Tank.
Poor defensive-zone coverage forced Tomas Vokoun to make some impressive saves, while tiring out just about everyone else. Bad turnovers and ill-timed penalties led to Sharks goals.
“I think we had a couple breakdowns and against a team like that when you have breakdowns, they make you pay,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “And tonight, they made us pay.”
San Jose got a fortunate bounce off the boards to score first, but Wideman answered quickly on the power play. Joel Ward even snapped a 25-game skid without a goal by tying it early in the third.
But then it all fell apart, a result of the Sharks’ forecheck and the Caps’ self-inflicted errors.
The entire defense broke down on San Jose’s third goal, as Joe Thornton found a wide-open Patrick Marleau in front of the net. It was a back-breaker, as it happened just 16 seconds after Ward’s goal.
“It’s just a breakdown, and it happens, and it ended up in our net,” Hunter said.
Later on, when Alex Ovechkin went after Brad Winchester for a hit on Alexander Semin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored four-on-four to break the game open.
The Caps were already playing without Nicklas Backstrom, who took an elbow to the head Tuesday night and missed Saturday’s morning skate. Backstrom watched from the press box instead.
But another injury during Saturday night’s loss could hurt the Caps, too, as defenseman Mike Green left midway through the second period with tightness in his groin. He logged only 7:11.
“It got a little tight, so we’re being careful with him,” said Hunter, who shook off the notion that a hit from Andrew Desjardins was the reason for Green going out. “And we took him and pulled him out.”
Naturally more offense would have helped, but it wasn’t Backstrom’s absence or Green’s departure that made the difference for the Caps in San Jose. Instead, it was a matter of a few big mistakes leading to a tough loss.
“They were better team today, and they deserve to win,” Vokoun said. “I think we turned the pucks over a little bit too much. It’s tough. They’re a good team.”
For now, with Green and Backstrom’s statuses uncertain, the problem shifts to trying to figure out a recipe for road success, and the Caps hope it comes quick with a game at the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night.