Well that didn't take long. In less than 24 hours, the Washington Capitals went from scoring a touchdown and an extra point to scoring a safety or less for the 27th time this season in losing 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks. And yes, I already miss football.
The Sharks were returning home from a two-week, seven game road trip in which they went 5-2-0 and seemed to have difficulty getting their legs under them to start the game. Like in Phoenix on Tuesday, the Capitals could not take advantage. Despite out shooting San Jose 9-6, the Caps would allow the Sharks to score first.
For the first 18 minutes of the opening period, neither team could muster enough offense to score but, following a Ben Eager penalty for tripping, the Caps seemed poised to take the lead. Instead, a fumbled pass by Caps defenseman John Carlson at the blue line led to the second short handed goal Washington would surrender in as many games and fourth of the year.
The Sharks' Patrick Marleau made Carlson and the Caps pay for the gaffe. The forward scooped up the loose puck and took off on a two-on-one break towards Washington goalie Michael Neuvirth.
Marleau slid a pass to Sharks center Joe Pavelski, who beat Neuvirth with a quick one-time wrist shot. Neuvirth, the surprise starter in my opinion, is spending too much time on the ice in the butterfly or European hybrid style and leaving a lot of room up top.
The book on Neuvy has been written: high and glove side with traffic in front. While the Caps are playing good defense, they are inclined to allow screens in front of their goalies and Neuvirth has problems with screens.
The lead did not last long as Alex Ovechkin, who has all but carried this team on his back since the All-Star break, tied the score before the PA announcer could finish announcing the Sharks goal scorer.
“Ovey looks like the old Ovey now,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I hadn’t been able to say that but in recent games he has been, so let’s hope he continues. The energy he’s playing with, he’s coming back hard and he’s not staying upright and his shifts were short. And all those things encompass a good leader. That’s what he was doing.”
Ovechkin has continued to play unselfish two-way hockey rarely seen in such a natural goal scorer. His physical presence on the ice forces teams to contend with him in more ways than just trying to prevent him from scoring.
Both teams would head to the dressing room tied at one after the first period and should have not come back until the third because neither team seemed interested in playing the second period.
Neither team scored a goal, committed a penalty or played anything resembling exciting NHL hockey in the middle stanza.
San Jose has been as close to a lock as there is in hockey at winning home games the past two seasons, but not this year. The Sharks lost just 11 home games the past two seasons combined but have lost 10 at the tank already this year.
San Jose would double-up Washington 14-7 in third-period shots, scoring even strength and power play goals to take a 3-1 lead. San Jose would come back after being out-shot in the first two periods to out-shoot Washington 28-25 for the game.
Nicklas Backstrom cut the lead to one with his 15th of the season with just 1:55 remaining but the Caps could never really get Neuvirth pulled for an extended period in favor of an extra skater.
Prior to Wednesday’s game against Anaheim, the Caps had killed 39 of their last 42 short handed situations. With the San Jose PP goal, Washington is just two for their last four on the kill and while they did score with the extra man last night they have also surrendered two short handed goals in two straight games.
This is not the kind of special teams play head coach Bruce Boudreau would like to see at any time of the season, much less with just 23 games remaining. Every team is starting to scoreboard watch as playoff seeds and home ice advantage are seemingly up for grabs every night down the stretch. Case in point, San Jose moved from fourth to second with tonight’s win as just three points separate first and last in the NHL’s Pacific Division.
Ovechkin enjoyed back-to-back multiple-point games for the first time since January 20-22.
Washington will have to wait one more year to get a win in San Jose. What's the hurry, anyway? The Caps have not won there since October 30, 1993, a 4-2 win over a current Caps coach. According to the Washington Capitals website, Arturs Irbe, now the Capitals’ goalie coach was in net for the Sharks on that night more than 16 years ago.
Only one player in the league—Ray Whitney of Carolina—was playing as long ago as 1993. He was in his third season.
Washington has a few days off for some much-needed rest before playing the Sabres in Buffalo on Sunday. Sunday has been designated Hockey Day in America and the Caps-Sabres game will bye one of three nationally televised contests.