By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 12:11 AM
Facing an unfamiliar foe after two emotional wins over a division opponent and a detested rival, the Washington Capitals fell flat Tuesday night at Verizon Center. The team that succeeded off a simple dump-and-chase style and won battles all around the ice in the two victories in the previous outings didn't resurface against the San Jose Sharks.
The Capitals lacked spark, and as the contest wore on, the Sharks took advantage of Washington's penchant to work as individuals rather than a collective until they broke a scoreless stalemate with two goals in the third period that were all they needed. San Jose handed Washington a 2-0 loss that the Capitals couldn't attribute to anything but themselves. It was Washington's eighth shutout loss of the season, the most times the Capitals have been blanked in a single year since 1998-99 (11).
"We got away from our game, what we've been doing and we were successful doing it," Mathieu Perreault said. "We start trying to do things on our own and we don't get any goals. We get goals when we get pucks deep and work and tonight we didn't do that at all and we get shut out again. . . . We didn't battle, we didn't work hard to get anything. We just have to blame ourselves."
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth made his second consecutive start and stopped the first 34 shots he faced, a streak of 56 consecutive saves going back to the Capitals' 3-0 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, but would give up goals on the final two shots of the game. San Jose's Logan Couture, who leads all rookies with 24 goals, broke the scoreless stalemate with a shot that beat Neuvirth after 11 minutes 55 seconds elapsed in the third period. Dan Boyle made it 2-0 just more than two minutes later, but the Capitals hadn't had much success in either end of the ice during the second half of the game.
In the first period, the Capitals and Sharks established a pace that resulted in quality scoring chances for both sides, and although San Jose had a 15-9 edge in shots at the end of the frame, Washington spent a significant amount of time in the offensive zone. The Capitals even appeared to take a one-goal lead with just more than 12 minutes gone in the contest when a shot by Alexander Semin, who was playing in his first game since Jan. 8 after missing 12 with a groin-muscle injury, trickled through the pads of Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi.
But before the puck crossed the goal line a referee, skating behind the net, blew the play dead. The goal was waved off because the whistle had been blown, denying the Capitals a chance to take an early lead. Washington is 15-2-6 when scoring first.
"It was deflating. Obviously it shouldn't have been blown. The referee came up and he apologized - it didn't do us a lot of good," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We're a team that plays a lot better with the lead these days rather than coming from behind. That probably would have helped us but you can't blame that one chance. We didn't get opportunities because we didn't deserve opportunities. They played a pretty good shut-down game and they worked harder than us."
There wouldn't be an even flow in the second period though. San Jose, with its big, physical forwards, began to methodically grind the play away in the offensive zone with shift after shift of cycling around the Capitals' net. Washington mustered four shots on goal in the frame and the best chance, a breakaway opportunity by David Steckel where the puck rolled off his stick, didn't even count as one.
At that point, the Capitals couldn't generate hardly any offense and were being out-shot two to one while the Sharks were content to hem Washington in its zone until something gave. The pressure from San Jose seemed like it only needed enough time to eventually crack the Capitals and Neuvirth, and the Sharks did just that with a seemingly harmless shot by Couture at the bottom of the left faceoff circle.
"We've got to be mentally stronger than that," Scott Hannan said. "They're a big strong team. When they get the puck in deep and cycle it, they seem to drag out plays a lot in the offensive zone. That's where we've got to be better. If we were a little quicker on the puck and able to break the puck out, you'll get your chances against them - but you've got to work."
Capitals note: Mike Green did not play against the Sharks and underwent medical testing Tuesday night after being struck by a puck in the right side of his head Sunday afternoon. Boudreau said the defenseman was not found to have a concussion and the team did not offer a classification of his injury. . . . Forward Jay Beagle was reassigned to the AHL's Hershey Bears.