The scoreboard’s clock indicated time had expired Tuesday night, but that didn’t account for the tenths of a second remaining when Evander Kane’s shot crossed the goal line for San Jose. Of all the ways the Washington Capitals have lost of late, none was more gut-wrenching than this.
They were less than a second away from a win they desperately needed, the Capital One Arena crowd standing in anticipation of just that, but then the score was suddenly tied, and the game off to overtime.
That tiny fraction of time was the difference between the Capitals snapping their five-game losing streak and ultimately falling into a six-game skid, the team’s worst slide since the 2013-14 season, when it missed the playoffs. Tomas Hertl won the game for the Sharks in overtime, 7-6, with his third goal of the game, and although the Capitals earned a standings point on a night when captain Alex Ovechkin recorded his third hat trick of the season, concerns over Washington’s recent play are as palpable as ever.
“I’m not even really excited about the extra point,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “We’ve got to find a way to close that one out.”
To Capitals Coach Todd Reirden, even if that Kane shot hadn’t crossed the goal line in time, this night would have still been a disappointment. Washington allowed 17 goals, including seven to Nashville and eight to Chicago, in its three games before Tuesday. The Capitals had hoped for a tighter performance defensively against the Sharks, and while Washington was able to keep pace with San Jose on the score sheet for most of the game, the Capitals’ loose play eventually caught up to them.
“That was not Washington Capital hockey,” Reirden said. “Going chance for chance against a team that has that type of firepower, that’s not going to win in the long run. We learned a hard lesson again on that tonight because that’s not acceptable and that’s not going to work in the long run. No way.”
Ovechkin scored his third goal of the night, and his league-leading 36th of the season, 5:52 into the third period when he smacked in a rebound to give the Capitals a 6-4 cushion.
But the Sharks chipped away, thanks in large part to Washington’s blunders. The Capitals were called for six minor penalties, twice as many as the Sharks, and Hertl scored his second goal on a San Jose power play at 10:02. Then, with San Jose’s goaltender on the bench for an extra attacker, Kane’s last-second shot tied it.
After the game, Ovechkin blamed himself for shooting at an empty net late in the game, an attempt that was blocked by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, rather than passing to Oshie or Nicklas Backstrom.
“I tried to make a rush play,” Ovechkin said. “Have to be better in this situation.”
There was plenty of blame to go around.
In the second period, an ill-advised pass from center Evgeny Kuznetsov on a power play led to a three-on-none rush at goaltender Braden Holtby, who was beaten by Logan Couture on San Jose’s fourth goal of the game. There was also an ill-advised penalty by Oshie in the offensive zone that led to a Hertl goal in the first period.
The start of the game was similarly ill-advised: The Capitals iced the puck after seven seconds, leading to a Sharks goal off a won offensive-zone draw just 12 ticks into the game.
“That’s not the way we need to play to win hockey games,” Holtby said. “We obviously haven’t been winning much lately. The solution isn’t to open up the game and go chance for chance. It’s a reality check. That’s just not good enough to win — from me, from all of us. Especially in the situation we’re in. It’s a lack of using our experience and a lack of preparation to do what we need to do to win. In saying that, that’s me, too. There’s goals there that I want to have another chance at, too. So that’s frustrating.”
The previous two days had been filled with meetings, with the Capitals’ concern over their losing streak evident.
Sunday afternoon’s 8-5 loss at Chicago prompted the first players’ meeting of the season in the dressing room after the game, and while it was short, one message to come out of it was that Washington needs to move on from its Stanley Cup victory of last year if it hopes to defend its title. Before the start of practice Monday, coaches called another meeting, and the players hit the ice 30 minutes later than scheduled.
After the game and ahead of Wednesday’s game at Toronto, Reirden was asked whether the message is getting through.
“At points it is, and obviously not enough,” he said. “For whatever reason, we continue to make mistakes, and it ends up in the back of our net. There’s no more clear example than what we just saw right there. . . . The only way we’re getting out of this is if we work our way out of it, because that’s where you’re going to really gain something as a team. If we would have won that game, 6-5, it still isn’t the right way to play hockey.”