Their shootout luck has finally disappeared and with it the Capitals’ ability to sneak two standings standings points out of most games.
While generally happy with the overall effort on Tuesday night at Verizon Center against the formidable San Jose Sharks, the end result was no different than a setback two days prior: A 2-1 shootout loss and just one the point.
"I thought the whole team played very well," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "Hard fought game, great pace to it. Obviously, unlucky with the shootout, but it was a good hockey game.”
That was hard to argue. For once, the Caps outshot one of the league's better teams, 36-29. They controlled large swaths of the contest, including the first 12 minutes when they were up 7-1 in shots. They had solid chances to score late in regulation on the power play and again in overtime.
But the only goal came on a bad-angle shot by Alex Ovechkin when he ripped a pass from Karl Alzner into the smallest opening above San Jose goalie Antti Niemi in the second period. The only mistake that cost them came when defenseman Dmitry Orlov couldn't handle a Mike Green pass behind their own net. The puck deflected right to Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, whose pass into the crease was deflected in by Tyler Kennedy.
"It was maybe the best team that we've faced," Washington forward Brooks Laich said. "They take away all the options, their [defensemen] are up on the wingers, on the walls, so the easy play up the wall isn't there. And also their centermen are very responsible over top of our centermen in the middle and tight on them. So even a rocket pass or a chip in is difficult to get on this team. You have to be creative and make good decisions and be patient."
For the most part, the Caps were. But go to a shootout and you're waiting on a coin flip. Once the Sharks started overtime by killing off the final 45 seconds of Washington's lone power play – there were only two in the game at all – the advantage swung back to San Jose. Patrick Marleau was the only player from either side to record a goal in the shootout and hand his team the victory.
"It's important to get the two points, but we played a great game," rookie goalie Philipp Grubauer said. "In their zone, we had the puck probably a lot of times and cycled in their zone, which was pretty good."
And so the mood in the Caps' locker room afterward was far more upbeat than after its 2-1 shootout loss to Buffalo, the NHL's worst team, two days before. That's because the Sharks are a different animal. At 29-12-6, they have the fifth-best record in the league.
"They're a team on autopilot. That's what I told the guys," Oates said. "They've been together a long time, had the same coach for a long time, same system. They know what they're doing, they show up. They're not intimidated on the road. They've got the best first period numbers in the league...But you see why. They're a very disciplined, good hockey team."
And Washington stayed with them for most of the night. Green and Orlov shook off their one major miscue. Top defense pairing Alzner and John Carlson kept San Jose's top offensive players in check. Grubauer stopped 28 shots and was again solid. He didn't need to be more than that in his 13th start in 17 games.
For the 18th time this season the Caps took a game beyond regulation and it was the fifth time in a row they lost in overtime or a shootout. Washington started the season 8-3 in shootout games, but has lost the last three. No team in the NHL has gone beyond regulation more. To be honest, they're a little tired of it.
"It's tough losing two games in a row in a shootout where we've been dynamite pretty much all season in them," Carlson said. "Little bit frustrating, but we've got to stick to what we're doing because we're generating chances and we're playing well in our own zone. That's a positive. But we've got to figure it out and find ways to win."
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