The Capitals played one of their better all-around games in recent memory and still couldn’t find a way to capture a win as they fell, 2-1, in a shootout to the San Jose Sharks. Alex Ovechkin did have a doozie of a 33rd goal this season in the loss, though.
Five thoughts on the loss to the Sharks.
1. An equal and opposite reaction. There are times when the mood in the dressing room postgame doesn’t reflect the result. Wins where a team knows it didn’t perform its best or, like Tuesday night, losses where a team believes it made strides in playing correctly despite failing to emerge victorious. The Capitals weren’t thrilled to have lost, but there was a general sense that this game offered more encouragement seeing as they took care of the play in their own zone against a tough, high-scoring opponent as well as they have against any foe this season.
“We worked as a unit,” John Carlson said. “You’re going to get beat in the D zone all the time, as a defenseman, as a forward it’s just the way it is. You just try to minimize them as much as possible and when we were down low our center was helping us our wingers on the walls, we did a good job just getting pucks out when we needed to chipping it into the neutral zone. The easiest play sometimes is the best and I thought we did a great job, all of us, and obviously Grubi played amazing.”
Carlson and Karl Alzner had the unenviable task of contending with Joe Thornton’s line all evening, which as Carlson said, wasn’t fun but a good test. Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov managed to bounce back after being on the ice for San Jose’s lone goal – a deflection by Tyler Kennedy through a screen — with a solid overall outing. And even the third pairing of John Erskine and Connor Carrick minimized mistakes to keep the play moving out of Washington’s end.
“I think it was definitely a step in the right direction, for sure,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We weren’t happy about our last game we played against Buffalo so we played better tonight. Better puck movement and puck possession. We moved the puck well. That’s what I think is the difference.”
Now the question is can the Capitals have that type of defensive effort moving forward because the games and schedule aren’t about to get easier. With nine contests in the next 17 days, five are against division opponents beginning with the next three at Pittsburgh, at Columbus and at New York. Wednesday’s tilt against the Penguins (8 p.m. start) will be Washington’s fifth game in seven nights while its rivals have been off for four days after a Western Canada road trip.
2. Where’s the O? With only two goals in the last two games (130 minutes of play thanks to overtime) the Capitals are once again looking for a scoring spark. This is the second time in an eight-game stretch that Washington has found itself unable to put pucks in the net; the previous instance came Dec. 29 and 30 in a 2-1 shootout loss at Buffalo and 3-1 loss at Ottawa.
The Capitals weren’t without scoring chances against Antti Niemi but the Sharks’ starter was able to withstand a few good looks – that nice glove save on Backstrom in the first period and a setup by Eric Fehr to Backstrom back door come to mind. And Niemi also had the benefit of the Capitals missing the net 12 times, several of which were quality open chances for the top stars, and Fehr ringing a shot off the post in overtime.
“There’s nights where you’ve got a good goalie, good hockey team, really our goal was kind of a fluky goal,” Coach Adam Oates said. “There’s chances in the game to generate and we only gave up one. There’s going to nights you get more but you find [across] hockey, scoring’s down, night-to-night basis it’s a grind. It’s a grind game. there’s no room.”
3. Go-go-gadget shuffle. When the Capitals came out for the start of the second period they had their top two lines reconfigured for the third time in six games. This time, Oates swapped the left wings putting Eric Fehr with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer and shifting Brooks Laich to the unit with Mikhail Grabovski and Alex Ovechkin.
Oates got the spark he was looking for. In the first period, the top six forwards had accounted for three shots on goal but by the end of the game they had combined for 16. Not all of them were Grade-A chances, certainly but Ovechkin’s group became more of a threat off the rush and Backstrom’s line was able to both create chances and recover well in the neutral zone thanks to Fehr’s long reach.
“I thought it balanced out a little bit better in the second half of the game,” Oates said.
4. Shootouts. While it may seem like the Capitals head to the skills competition every single night this season, the total now stands at 14 after Tuesday’s shootout with the Sharks. That’s 30.4 percent of Washington’s games that have needed not only 65 minutes of combined regulation and overtime play but the extra tiebreak as well to determine a victor. Early on in the season the Capitals were just about automatic in the shootout; they won eight of their first 11. But that type of efficiency wasn’t bound to last not in something where luck is as involved as skill of a shooter and goaltender. Washington is now winless in its last three shootouts, two against Buffalo and one against the Sharks, and has lost the last five games that have been determined either in overtime or a shootout.
5. Rock’em, sock’em. While we don’t know why established fighters Aaron Volpatti and Mike Brown decided to drop the gloves off a faceoff with 11:39 gone in the first period it led to one of the more frantic, bloody fights in a Caps’ game in a long while. Both Volpatti and Brown threw and landed several punches, with the Capitals’ winger suffering a bloody nose and the Sharks’ forward cut along his eyebrow with blood dripping down his nose as well.
While you might be able to argue the fight actually worked against the Capitals, who went 10 minutes 18 seconds without a shot beginning about a minute after the scrap, this was simply one of the more raucous fights of the year.