- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jonathan Cheechoo calmly glided toward Brent Johnson and flinched, faking a quick wrist shot.

Johnson bought the ruse, and Cheechoo shifted the puck to his backhand before flipping it into the net for the game-winner. While the San Jose Sharks congregated on the ice to celebrate a 3-2 shootout victory last night in front of a sparse Verizon Center crowd of 13,622, the Washington Capitals shuffled into the dressing room.

“Cheechoo came down and froze me,” Johnson said. “It looked like he was going to go five-hole, and he put it [top] shelf. It was a good move, and obviously you don’t want to lose that way. It is something we need to change, but it is a shootout, and anything can happen.”

It is an all-too-familiar feeling for the Caps, whose woes in the one-on-one format continued. Washington lost in a shootout for the eighth time in nine tries, and despite collecting a point, the team’s current skid reached five. It also was the team’s third shootout loss in the past seven games.

“It is frustrating,” Caps winger Matt Pettinger said. “Say you win those. That is seven, eight points, and that puts us only three or four or five points out of the playoff race when this morning we were 12. Those are huge points.”

Pettinger led off the shootout with a goal for the Caps, and Johnson foiled Ryan Clowe’s backhand attempt, but Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov knocked the puck from Alex Ovechkin with his stick, and Alexander Semin’s shot hit the right post.

San Jose’s Joe Pavelski tied it up after Ovechkin’s miss to set the stage for Cheechoo, who led the NHL with 56 goals last season but has been held to 21 this year.

“I think I’ve scored twice in my lifetime,” Cheechoo said. “I got a chance — this was my first one this year, and hopefully I am getting a little bit better.”

It was another strong defensive performance for the Caps. Johnson turned aside 33 of 35 shots against one of the league’s most explosive offenses. The Caps’ checking line of Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley and Pettinger kept San Jose’s top unit off the score sheet in even-strength play even though reigning NHL MVP Joe Thornton logged nearly 20 minutes of five-on-five ice time.

One of the keys for the Caps in the first 40 minutes was staying out of the penalty box. San Jose boasts the top power play in the league at better than 23 percent, but the Caps committed only one infraction through two periods.

Washington went to the box twice in the first five minutes of the third period, and the Sharks capitalized on the second one. Johnson stopped Pavelski’s shot from the left circle and two rebound attempts by Cheechoo, but Matt Carle’s first rebound try hit the right post, and his second went in for his seventh goal with 14:11 remaining in the third period to knot the score at 2-2.

The Caps had several chances to win it in overtime (they outshot the Sharks 5-1 in the extra session), the best of which was a 2-on-1 with Pettinger and Ovechkin. Pettinger faked a shot to maneuver past a diving defenseman, but Nabokov stopped his point-blank offering.

The Caps jumped out to an early 2-0 advantage.

Shaone Morrisonn ripped a slap shot over the left shoulder of Nabokov 9:52 into the first period. After a botched 2-on-1 with Gordon and Ovechkin, Bradley snapped a quick shot from the right boards that Nabokov kicked to the right before Morrisonn collected the puck and scored his second goal of the season.

Fifty-one seconds later San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic fanned on a clearing attempt at the top of the crease, and Brian Sutherby put the puck into an open net for his fifth of the year. The play started when defenseman Jamie Heward sent a wrist shot to the net and then Donald Brashear’s rebound attempt was deflected to Vlasic.

The Sharks cut the lead to one late in the first period when Patrick Rissmiller finished a 3-on-1 with his fifth goal of the season.

Notes — Caps captain Chris Clark left the game in the third period with an upper body injury. Center Kris Beech dressed for the first time in 10 games, replacing Brooks Laich on the active roster and on the second line between Semin and Eric Fehr. …

Sharks captain Patrick Marleau was scratched because of food poisoning, and goaltender Vesa Toskala also did not dress because of the flu.

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