The offense is back. The losing hasn’t stopped.
Alex Ovechkin recorded his third hat trick of the season, but the Washington Capitals continued to make mistakes and allow soft goals as their losing streak extended to six games Tuesday night with a 7-6 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks.
With a sixth San Jose skater on the ice, Sharks winger Evander Kane scored the game-tying goal with one second left in regulation. Tomas Hertl scored the overtime winner to complete a hat trick of his own, sending the fans at Capital One Arena home dumbfounded.
Ovechkin scored once in each period of regulation and added an assist to finish with four points, tying a season high. T.J. Oshie had a goal and two assists and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky also scored. Braden Holtby saved 36 shots for the Capitals (27-16-6, 60 points).
Ovechkin has scored an NHL-best 36 goals. Now at 643 for his career, he passed Dave Andreychuk for 13th all-time.
All that aside, the captain took responsibility for why the Sharks were able to force overtime. He looked to shoot at San Jose’s empty net instead of making a safer pass. The Sharks blocked his shot and regained possession with time to score.
“Was my mistake at the end of the game. I tried to make a rush play,” Ovechkin said. “Have to be better in this situation.”
An unhappy Todd Reirden said he “had a lot of respect” for Ovechkin saying that, tying the example of leadership back into the team’s greater array of mistakes.
“The only way that we’re gonna get through this is if you’re accountable and can stare at the guy you’re working within the eyes and move forward,” the coach said. “When players make mistakes, or coaches make mistakes, or whatever happens, that’s the best way to move forward from something — is to stand up to the person that you respect and you play with and say that you did something wrong. That’s character to me.”
Reirden lamented how his players tried going chance-for-chance with San Jose and didn’t play “Washington Capital hockey.”
“If we would’ve won that game 6-5, it still isn’t the right way to play hockey,” Reirden said. “It’s great because we feel good because we got the win, but to trade chances, that’s not how we’re gonna have success and we know that doesn’t bring you long-term gain.”
After a four-game stretch where the Capitals could only muster four goals in total, they’ve now scored 11 in their last two. But they allowed 15 in those same two losses, and the defense and penalty kill are suffering their worst stretch of the year.
“There’s a lot of areas of our game that we’re trying to clean up and we’ve got to put it all together, at the end of the day, and stop talking about the little positives (like), ‘I think we payed good in this area,’” John Carlson said.
The Sharks scored 12 seconds into the game when Holtby was out of place to stop a Joe Pavelski shot that bounced and took an unexpected path into the net.
But Ovechkin responded with a power-play goal — not one of his usual one-timers or wrist shots from the left circle, but a cleanup play from the side of the net after Martin Jones blocked three straight Washington shots.
Burakovsky, playing on the fourth line, was the next to score when he sniped one past Jones. The winger has been the subject of trade rumors and was linked in a report by The Athletic to several Western Conference teams, including Arizona, Dallas, Vancouver and Colorado.
But Burakovsky’s goal was the first of two that the Capitals followed with ruinous penalties. Oshie was called for tripping and San Jose beat Washington’s penalty kill with a tic-tac-toe play for a Hertl goal.
Then, Ovechkin drew two defenders on a zone entry and snuck a centering pass to Oshie for a score. But three minutes later, Matt Niskanen took a turn in the bin, and the Sharks scored in the first minute of the second-period seconds after their power play ended.
The course of events didn’t slow down in the middle frame. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored by putting back a Jakub Vrana shot attempt that was saved. Ovechkin wristed home his second of the night, this time at 5-on-5, a few minutes later.
But the Capitals saved their biggest gaffe of the night 14:39 into the second. Logan Couture stole a puck from Carlson while the Capitals were still getting set in their O-zone, leaving space for the Sharks to run a 3-on-0 breakaway and score.
Washington clung to its 5-4 second intermission lead until Ovechkin completed his hat trick: a snap shot set up by a cross-zone pass from Vrana.
Unable to defend the two-goal lead, the Capitals allowed Hertl to score his second power-play goal of the game, then Kane’s last-second score that forced overtime.
The Capitals committed five minor penalties and gave away 11 pucks, which Carlson said were only glaringly noticeable due to the losing streak.
“I think when things aren’t going well, it’s very easy to pick on plays or passes, turnovers, mistakes, all that,” Carlson said. “But when we’re playing our best hockey we’re making 10, 15, 20 mistakes a game. We’re making too many but it’s very easy to pick that apart when things aren’t going your way, and we gotta work ourselves out of it. That’s the bottom line.”
The Capitals play their final game before the All-Star break Wednesday at the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ovechkin will play against the Leafs and sit out the Capitals’ first game after the break — Feb. 1 against the Calgary Flames — due to his choice to skip the All-Star Game; Ovechkin and the team had to choose one of the two for Ovechkin to miss.