Capitals looking for answers, consistency after ‘really disappointing’ loss to Sharks

WASHINGTON — Four months into the season, it’s still not clear exactly who the Capitals are.

Is it the team that defeated the NHL-leading Bruins on Saturday afternoon in Boston? Or the one wiped out less than 24 hours later by a costly rally, a poor goal and a needless penalty in a 4-1 loss to Erik Karlsson and the Sharks in 28th place?

The loss marked Washington’s sixth straight Super Bowl Sunday.

“It wasn’t a good game for us,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “They were better than us in many areas. We achieved. We didn’t work and flipped the puck too many times. We just weren’t good enough to win a game.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored Washington’s only goal late in the second period to cut San Jose’s lead to 2-1, but Aaron Dell wouldn’t let them get any closer. Dell, who came on for the injured Kaapo Kahkonen and is San Jose’s No. 3 goaltender, stopped all eight shots he faced in his first NHL appearance since Dec. 4.

“When you go to the net, good things happen and I thought that goal would give us momentum,” said Kuznetsov, “but unfortunately not.”

The Caps won five games to end an 11-2-2 in December. In the 18 games since then they are 8-8-2. Their only consecutive wins ended the team’s 10-day hiatus for the All-Star Game and bye (in Columbus on December 31 and in Boston on Saturday).

Nicolas Aube-Kubel shoots the puck at Sharks goalie Aaron Dell. (Geoff Burke / USA Today)

“It’s really disappointing,” said goalkeeper Charlie Lindgren of his big win with a dud. “Yesterday it was a great win; We played a really good game against the best team in the league table. And we had the opportunity to come home, but we just didn’t make it.”

No one used the back-to-backs as an excuse, but the Caps, the NHL’s oldest team with an average age of 30.9, got no help from planners this weekend. Not only did they have start times just 22 hours apart and travel, but the Sharks have been idle and waiting in DC since Thursday’s 4-1 loss in Florida.

Washington is now 1-5-1 in the second game of back-to-backs.

“It happens to everyone,” Laviolette said. “Everyone gets caught with the schedule. There is no excuse. We had to make a better game. The points are important and we didn’t do that.”

Karlsson, who had one goal and two assists, said: “I felt like maybe we’re a little fresher than them.”

The Caps’ offensive has also run a bit dry in the last few games. In fact, they’ve only scored three goals and needed overtime since their 4-0 win in Arizona on Jan. 19 — a 4-3 win over the 32nd-ranked Blue Jackets late last month.

“In general, we probably need a little more action at the net, more people at the net, more pucks at the net,” said Conor Sheary. “Creating second chance opportunities.”

Carrying the loss, Lindgren said the goal he conceded against Evgeny Svechnikov less than three minutes into the game put his side in a bad position from the start.

“The way the game started for me, that first goal, that’s not what the team did,” said Lindgren. “Obviously I want that. And as soon as you’re 1-0 down, you try to fight back.”

The game started with a turnover in Lars Eller’s neutral zone, which the Sharks quickly turned over.

Another self-inflicted wound helped San Jose take a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. Substituted for an ailing Anthony Mantha, Aliaksei Protas took a trip penalty in the offensive zone and Alexander Barabanov made the Caps pay. A point shot hit a front shinguard and Barabanov found it first. It was just the second goal allowed by Washington’s seventh penalty in 10 games.

“I’ll probably have to take a few steps and try to reach it more with my legs, but it happens,” Protas said of the penalty that was 190 feet from his own net.

Kuznetsov’s goal put the Caps back in the game and sent Kahkonen into the dressing room. During the match, Kuznetsov bumped the goalie’s helmet with his hip, causing the concussion spotter to pull him.

Kuznetsov also missed the end of the second after being ground down by Logan Couture behind the Caps’ net. The center returned at the start of the third period and said he was fine afterwards.

About eight minutes into the last frame, Karlsson gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead with a point shot that hit Marcus Johansson’s stick before flapping over Lindgren.

“I saw him shoot it and then it hit a stick and it was a shot from the eye,” Lindgren said. “I’m disappointed by that too.”

Karlsson added: “It took a bit of a rainbow route. You just try to get on the net and good things happen, right?”

Karlsson, who was the subject of trade rumors as the March 3 deadline neared, now has 18 goals and 55 assists for 73 points. That’s by far the highest score among the blueliners, while his assist total is second with Connor McDavid. Only Nikita Kucherov has more helpers at 57.

“I’m not worried about the circumstances and the things that I can’t control,” Karlsson said of the trade rumours.

An empty goal from Tomas Hertl ensured there would be no last-second heroics for the Caps and that Alex Ovechkin and company would be in search of answers on Monday’s scheduled day off.

“You’re more tired in the second game of a duel, but every team goes through,” said Lindgren. “So I don’t think there’s any room for excuses, myself included. We all need to look in the mirror and get a little bit better.”

(Photo above: Geoff Burke / USA Today) Capitals looking for answers, consistency after ‘really disappointing’ loss to Sharks

Russell Falcon

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