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Washington Capitals lose badly to San Jose Sharks, 5-2

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009; D01

SAN JOSE - Two and a half months ago, the Washington Capitals hammered San Jose on home ice. On Wednesday, the high-powered Sharks got even at HP Pavilion, and in the process, extended a dubious drought for their guests.

Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell scored in the span of 75 seconds late in the first period, and Ryane Clowe and Joe Thornton each scored on penalty shots to lift the Western Conference-leading Sharks to a thorough 5-2 thumping of the Capitals.

San Jose's pair of penalty shots marked the first time since 1982 a team notched two in the same game. But they weren't the reason the Sharks kept the Capitals winless here for the 17th straight year (0-9-1).

"We weren't very good in the first period," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team lost two games in a row in regulation for only the second time this season. "We were holding our own, but we weren't creating anything. Consequently we ended up with three shots on goal. If you end up with three shots on goal in a period, you're not going to win many hockey games."

The defeat also was the Capitals' second straight since Monday's trade with Columbus that sent captain Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Jason Chimera, who notched a primary assist in his Capitals debut.

Boudreau put Chimera on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin to start the game. But by the middle of the second period -- with the Capitals trailing 2-0 -- he reunited Alex Ovechkin with Backstrom and Semin in search of offense. But that spark never arrived.

Washington's power play went 0 for 4, including coming up empty on a 50-second two-man advantage early in the second period. Given the chance to cut their deficit in half, the Capitals mustered one shot on Evgeni Nabokov (24 saves) on that power play.

"That was a key point in the game, for sure," center Brendan Morrison said. "You get one [early] on the 5 on 3, then you're right back on the power play maybe."

Ovechkin said: "On the power [play] we try to make too many diagonal pass. We have to take a couple of shots [like Boudreau says]. You do that, and they start running around. But we tried to be so cute and it's just killing us."

Later in the second period, Clowe put the game out of reach with the first of the Sharks' penalty shots. Defenseman Mike Green had tripped Clowe on a breakaway, and the San Jose winger deked Michal Neuvirth (28 saves) and tucked his shot underneath the crossbar on Neuvirth's glove side to make it 3-0.

Mike Knuble broke through for the Capitals early in the third period when the net-crashing winger went to the crease and banged in a puck that Nabokov had lost in his skates. Chimera had surprised the Sharks goalie by firing a shot from a tight angle.

"When we made it 3-1 we were taking the game to them pretty well," Boudreau said. "But if we had done that in the second period, who knows? We're like a lot of good teams, we've got that quick strike abilities. But they snuffed it out by making it 4-1, preventing us from coming back."

Less than three minutes after Knuble's goal, Pavelski's second goal of the night, on a one-timer from the circle, restored their three goal cushion.

Then the Sharks sent the Capitals on their way with another penalty shot.

This time, the officials ruled that defenseman John Erskine had thrown his stick in an attempt to stop Thornton on a breakaway. Replays, however, showed that Erskine simply lost his stick after he dived and his stick hit Thornton's skate.

Thornton went wide on his approach then snapped a shot past Neuvirth's glove.

"I don't think I threw my stick," Erskine said. "It's not even something you do when you're six years old. But he made the call. I just tried to go and get the puck and the way I went at him, my stick hit him and kind of flew out."

Boudreau said: "I don't want to say anything because I'll get fined."

Ovechkin netted his 26th goal with 7:20 remaining, pulling him even with Marian Gaborik for the league lead.

Ovechkin's frustration with the Sharks' tight and physical defense on him boiled over moments later. He threw off his gloves and confronted Dan Boyle after the two tangled in the corner.

"I was angry about how we play," Ovechkin said. "My game, my lines, the whole team. I tried to drop the gloves. But the referee was there. Thanks God. I'm not going to get hurt."

The Capitals' real problems, though began in the first period - again. Two days after being held to four shots in the first period of an eventual 6-3 loss to the NHL-worst Hurricanes, the Sharks did Carolina one better. They limited Washington to three shots in the opening 20 minutes and took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Neuvirth drew oohs and ahs from the capacity crowd with eye-popping stops on Scott Nichol and Pavelski early. But the rookie could only hold off the Sharks' potent attack for so long.

Pavelski opened the scoring at 15 minutes 30 seconds, ripping a shot off the far post and in to finish off an odd-man rush. Green scrambled to rejoin the play after getting tripped behind the San Jose net, but Pavelski and Dany Heatley were already deep in the Capitals' zone.

Just 1:15 later, Mitchell made it 2-0 on a pretty play he started with a sublime pass. The speedy center raced into the zone after a loose puck, reached around defenseman Karl Alzner and dropped it to Frazer McLaren. Mitchell then tipped Mitchell's shot, sending it over Neuvirth's blocker.

And the rout was on.

"The first period so far this year has been our best periods," Morrison said. "But the past couple of games it hasn't been. We have to refocus here, get going in the first period and be ready to battle right off the bat. We weren't initially ready."

Capitals Notes: Defenseman Tyler Sloan and center Boyd Gordon were healthy scratches. . . . Defenseman Brian Pothier missed his ninth consecutive game with a rib injury.

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