|Joe Pavelski celebrates his shorthanded goal Thursday night.|
The Capitals got off to a good, fast start as the top line of Mike Knuble, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom applied strong offensive pressure on the Sharks, but Antti Niemi made a great first stop of the game to deny Ovechkin 40 seconds in. The Caps continued their pressure in the early stages of the game, but the Sharks began to counter back with some good, concentrated rushes up ice, although they did not get any shots on Michal Neuvirth. The period then began to fly by, with very few whistles and good, back and forth action and offensive chances for both teams. Alex Ovechkin missed the net on a golden chance about halfway through the period, but Niemi was all over the place again and made several sprawling saves to keep the Capitals off the board. But after one of these sensational stops, a frustrated Alex Ovechkin committed a bad penalty at the 13:56 mark when he interfered with Douglas Murray during a Sharks rush for the Caps' first PK of the night. But the penalty killers stood strong, with systematic blocks and good clogging of passing lanes. Just after the penalty kill, however, the Caps gave up a golden chance in front, and forward Jamal Mayers was all alone in front; thankfully he shot the puck wide to keep the game even. The Capitals then earned themselves a power play late in the period and had a chance to go up by a goal in the closing stages of the frame at the 18:40 mark. But right off the draw, John Carlson fumbled the puck at the blue line and Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleu streaked up ice for a shorthanded opportunity; it was Paveski who buried the shorthanded goal at the 18:49 mark. But the Capitals answered right back on their power play, as Alex Ovechkin snapped a puck past Niemi just 22 seconds after the Pavelski goal to equalize and give the Caps a huge boost. The last 49 seconds passed without incident, and the teams headed to the locker rooms tied at 1.
The Sharks came out very hard in the second, and pinned the Caps in their own zone for an extended period to open the frame. After the Caps finally managed to break the puck out however, they committed a turnover that sent the Sharks in alone on an odd man rush but Michal Neuvirth challenged well and kept the game tied. As the period wore down, however, the Capitals' legs began to fade a bit, the Sharks continued their excellent offensive pressure but simply could not convert. The Capitals did finally manage to break out of their zone for an extended period about halfway through the frame, but Brooks Laich had a golden opportunity stopped by Dan Boyle's stick and the game remained tied. But after that small glimmer of Caps pressure, the Sharks began to dominate the period again. The Capitals consistently had trouble getting the puck out of their own zone, and the Sharks had many opportunities to lead, although they did not get many shots off. The Caps did manage a gasp late in the period, however, and pressured Antti Niemi into making a couple nice saves, but there were no excellent chances for either team over the remainder of the frame; the second period ended with the teams still tied at 1.
In the third, the Capitals came out sluggish again, and the Sharks took full advantage of their tired legs to establish early offensive zone dominance. The Sharks got five shots off in the first three minutes of the period, but Michal Neuvirth was again solid to keep the Sharks from taking the lead. However, a little less than five minutes into the frame, the Sharks' forecheck was just too strong, and Ryane Clowe finally cashed a puck in front following a very strong shift by his line at the 4:27 mark. After their goal, the Sharks continued to press, and Neuvirth had to be great again on star rookie Logan Couture in close to keep the Sharks from putting the game away about three minutes later. But just as the Capitals began to get a little momentum back with some good rushes up ice, John Erskine took a bad interference penalty and sent the Sharks to the power play at the 10:27 mark. And just off the faceoff, Dan Boyle leaned into a slapshot from the point, and two San Jose players tipped the puck before Dany Heatley put it past Neuvirth to put the Sharks up 3-1 at the 10:29 mark of the third. Despite now being down by two, the Caps were not able to get any good chances, and the Sharks continued to be relentless and play most of the time in the Caps' zone; any attempted rushes that the Capitals got up ice were quickly snuffed out by the San Jose backcheck. However, the Capitals got a burst of life late in the period with 1:55 left when Nicklas Backstrom roared down the right wing and snapped a shot past Niemi to make the game interesting. Despite another late charge, though, the Caps simply ran out of gas over the last minute and 20 seconds and the Sharks brought home the victory.
This was a very tough game for the Capitals and one that they could not have been expected to win, even thought it would have so clutch if they had. Less than 24 hours after that huge victory in Anaheim, and playing their third game in four nights, the Caps were able to come out hard and generate good chances early, but they were simply too gassed to keep up with the big, strong San Jose forwards late in the game. This loss does not kill them either, as the losses by both Montreal and Tampa Bay keep the Caps right where they are. They need at least 3 points out of the weekend, though. There is no question about that.
Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom had another good game. I'm not ready to pronounce them "back" by any means, but each passing game, it seems Ovechkin and Backstrom gain another step and inch back towards their dominant form of the past two seasons. If I've said it before, I've said it 50 times: how these two men play over the next seven weeks will have a huge impact on not only the rest of the regular season, but also how the Caps perform in the playoffs (if they get there). Despite the loss, this was a step in the right direction for them.
One particularly bad note from tonight: it was the second consecutive game that the Capitals gave up a momentum-killing, energy-sapping shorthanded goal. If John Carlson doesn't try and get fancy at the blue line right off the draw, the Capitals maybe get an extra point tonight. Instead, they go home with zero. It's a minor point, as they have only allowed 4 this year, but it's still very annoying to see something like that happen at this critical stage of the season.
The Capitals will travel to Buffalo either tonight or tomorrow as they prepare to take on the Sabres on Sunday in (another) huge game for them and their season. That game is scheduled for a 12:30 P.M. puck drop.