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Winning Play: A championship lesson

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Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) controls the puck against San Jose Sharks defenseman Radim Simek (51) during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

This might be the most dangerous San Jose Sharks squad in franchise history.

Before last night, the Sharks were on pace to finish the regular season with 302 goals. This would be 37 more than their previous franchise high of 265, set in 2005-06.

The defending champs, however, taught San Jose a championship lesson in their 5-1 victory.

“We couldn’t outscore our problems tonight,” Peter DeBoer acknowledged.

These problems started from the get-go, when a Joe Pavelski (8) offensive zone penalty led to a T.J. Oshie power play goal. This erased a brief Sharks lead.

Pavelski fessed up, “We killed a few too many penalties. It took away a little bit of our momentum.”

San Jose color commentator Bret Hedican suggested that while Dmitry Orlov (9) went down easy, Pavelski might have been overzealous in trying to help create time and space for his linemates.

Offense at the expense of defense was an opening frame theme that kept repeating itself.

Timo Meier (28) tried a stretch aerial pass, which Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) batted down. It was now a 50-50 puck between Kuznetsov and Justin Braun (61). Brenden Dillon (4) remained down low with Alex Ovechkin (8).

Perhaps Meier thought Braun would have an easy win. Whatever the reason — his line wasn’t changing, either — the winger left the zone without his team having clear puck possession. Tom Wilson (43) stepped up, making it a 3-on-2 down low.

On the other end, the Sharks could’ve tracked back harder.

Evander Kane admitted as much: “We didn’t compete hard enough tonight. They were winning all the loose puck races. They had their skating legs; we didn’t.”

As the puck circled the boards, Joonas Donskoi (27) met Orlov. It was a 50-50 battle won by Orlov, who chipped it ahead to T.J. Oshie (77). Oshie led a 3-on-2, finished off by Jakub Vrana (13).

Most importantly, a perhaps gassed Kane (9) and Tomas Hertl (48) appeared slow to react to the 50-50 that Donksoi was losing. As hard as you go on offense, you have to go just as hard on defense.

All that said, give Washington credit. They were on top of the San Jose breakout, also consistently clogging the middle and stepping up at the blueline with their 1-1-3 neutral zone trap.

“They were on. They had tight gap. They were turning pucks over,” said DeBoer. “We weren’t skating and putting it in the right place.”

Kane agreed. “We didn’t execute in the middle of the ice. They got a lot of transition opportunities off of that.”

Here was an example of the 1-1-3 in action.

Lars Eller (20) was the first forechecker, a fairly passive one. He did occupy the middle, forcing Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) to keep the puck in the left lane, to Marcus Sorensen (20). Brett Connolly (10) pinched, causing a rushed Sorensen chip off the wall. Eller switched with Connolly, retaining 1-1-3 structure.

Kevin Labanc (62) raced to the puck. Recognizing a 50-50 situation, Andre Burakovsky (65) broke from holding the blueline with his defensemen, stepping up on Labanc instead. This pressure forced Labanc into a neutral zone turnover, as opposed to getting it in deep.

“The details of our game weren’t great, DeBoer summarized. “The further you get along in the season, the closer to the playoffs, the better the teams, that gets heightened.”

Hopefully, the Sharks take that to heart. It’s great to be able to score so many goals, but as the Capitals demonstrated last season, team defense is the linchpin of a champion.