Not even a two-goal lead at Verizon Center was enough for the Washington Capitals against Jonathan Cheechoo and the San Jose Sharks.
Cheechoo, the NHL's leading goal scorer in the NHL a year ago, backhanded in the Sharks' second goal of the shootout last night, and the visitors skated off with a 3-2 victory -- their 10th straight over the Capitals.
It was a deflating conclusion to a contest that began with the Capitals taking a 2-0 lead over one of the Western Conference's better teams. But the defeat also came as little surprise considering their struggles against the Sharks and in the tiebreaker (1-8) this season. San Jose, meantime, ended a season-worst three-game losing streak.
"We're playing better," Capitals goaltender Brent Johnson (33 saves) said. "But we're not getting the wins. We're just falling a goal short."
The loss was Washington's fifth straight and ninth in 11 games, and it could end up being costly. Captain and first line right wing Chris Clark left early in the third period with an upper body injury after being hit by San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray. A team spokesman said an update would be provided Friday.
Clark, however, wasn't the only member of the top line who was of concern. All-star Alex Ovechkin failed to record a point for the fourth consecutive game and for seventh time in the past nine. Ovechkin also missed in the shootout, when he was poke-checked by goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (22 saves), a risky move that dropped Ovechkin to 1 for 9 this season in the tiebreaker.
"Long term I think it makes you stronger," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said of Ovechkin's slump. "I think it makes you delve into what makes you play well. There are very few players in the NHL that go from start to finish in their careers without a little bit of a stall, especially offensive guys."
Ovechkin sidestepped questions about his struggles and chose to focus on the team.
"I want to score goals," he said. "We're disappointed. We play against a great team, and we can't win. The second penalty in the third period was a killer for us."
The penalty Ovechkin was referring to was a hooking call against prospect Eric Fehr early in the third period. Because only 41 seconds after Fehr entered the penalty box, San Jose's smooth skating defenseman Matthew Carle jammed his own rebound past Johnson at 5 minutes 49 seconds of the third period, tying the score 2-2.
The game remained that way through the rest of regulation and five minutes of overtime, despite Washington out-shooting the Sharks, 5-1.
Nabokov was the difference in the shootout, too. After getting beat by Matt Pettinger, the Russian goaltender leaped out to swat the puck away from Ovechkin, who attempted to deke him deep into the crease. Semin then hit the crossbar, and Cheechoo clinched it. Joe Pavelski also scored for the Sharks.
"I had my plan on him," Nabokov said, referring to Ovechkin.
In the first period, Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisson struck, blasting a long rebound over Nabokov from the high slot to put the home team ahead 1-0. Then, just 49 seconds later, Brian Sutherby jammed in a rebound in front of the net to extend the Capitals' edge to 2-0 on their fourth shot of the period.
They didn't record another shot the rest of the period -- and the Sharks eventually made them pay. After a turnover along the boards in the Sharks' end wound up on the stick of former Capitals winger Mike Grier. Grier led a two-on-one into the Washington zone, where he dished to Patrick Rissmiller, who fired the puck past Johnson at 17:02 to pull the Sharks within 2-1.
Both goaltenders made sure the second period finished scoreless. Johnson stopped 12 Sharks shots and Nabokov thwarted a late Capitals' power-play opportunity when he stopped Clark's shot from point-blank range with his glove.
Capitals Notes:Center Kris Beech returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous nine games. He replaced Brooks Laich and played between Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr. Laich joined forward Ben Clymer and defenseman Steve Eminger as a healthy scratch. . . . The Sharks were without leading goal scorer and captain Patrick Marleau (food poisoning) and goaltender Vesa Toskala (flu).