The San Jose Sharks, coming into town after a shutout loss to Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins, entered Verizon Center in need of standings points to stay relevant in the hotly contested Pacific Division. The Washington Capitals recently surrendered a point to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon and wanted a pair of points to keep the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers off of their heels in the Metropolitan Division. A low scoring affair dominated by goaltenders Antti Niemi and Philipp Grubauer ended in a shootout loss for the Capitals, Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom unable to solve Niemi in the skills competition. Washington's lone point means the Rangers and Flyers are only a single game behind in the Eastern Conference's playoff race.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Aaron Volpatti and Mike Brown’s first period tilt was wrought with heavy fists, the Capitals’ fourth-liner needing to head to the locker room for repairs after a couple square right hands from the Sharks’ enforcer. Less than two minutes later the road team would score the game’s first, Brown celebrating on the visitor’s penalty bench. Volpatti would return for Washington after getting closed up.
- The Sharks’ first tally would start with Mike Green getting caught deep in the offensive zone and ending fifty seconds later after Tyler Kennedy tipped the puck in Washington’s net immediately following a lackluster clear from the rearguard. San Jose’s forwards kept funneling the puck into Green’s defensive corner and their relentless retrieval eventually overpowered Green and his teammates. It will be a shift number 52 would like to forget about - no doubt.
- San Jose continued their domination of opponents during the first period of play, outscoring and outshooting (11 to 10) the Capitals by one through the first twenty minutes. The total number of shots for and against favored Washington by six earlier in the frame but Brown’s fisticuffs and the visitor’s persistent puck pursuit ensured that the hosts would have to play catch up after one - for the first time in five contests.
- Capitals Captain Ovechkin tied the game a little more than halfway through, a tough angle shot that curved around Niemi's nearside shoulder and got the Verizon Center fans on their feet for the first time. Ovechkin's 33rd of the year highlighted a better second period that saw Washington outshoot their opponents (as they would in the third period as well).
- Brad Stuart thought he had given his team the lead back before the second period's buzzer sounded, stuffing a loose puck into the net from atop the crease. After a few tense moments in Gallery Place referee Don VanMassenHoven skated to center ice to announce what viewers at home already knew; Stuart's tally crossed the goal line two tenths of a second late.
- A largely five on five affair, San Jose's 12th ranked power play had the first opportunity of the game (and their only) early in the third period but Joe Thornton and company couldn't put one past Grubauer and his team's 18th ranked penalty killing corps. Strong forechecking from Fehr in particular broke up the extra man unit's fluid movement and kept the Sharks from gaining the contest's lead and its momentum in the final frame.
- Tommy Wingels had the third period's best look, a couple forehanded swats at a puck bouncing crease-side until he was ultimately denied and the puck suffocated by Grubauer. That save, combined with a lucky bounce off the post preceding Wingels' hectic battle had Capitals fans nervously sitting on their hands, the referee's whistle providing a much needed chance to catch one's breath late in regulation.
- Washington would get their first and only chance on the power play with 75 seconds left in regulation, Mikhail Grabovski driving hard to the net and Patrick Marleau being forced to illegally interfere with his hockey stick. A couple of strong saves from Niemi on Ovechkin one-timers kept the game tied and secured the Sharks a standings point before overtime began. The Capitals would squander the final forty five seconds of man advantage time with the four on three advantage in the extra frame.
- Jason Chimera's stiff left glove to the face of Marc-Edouard Vlasic dropped the San Jose defenseman in overtime, a retaliatory strike after Chimera was worked over while on his behind in the Sharks' zone. It is amazing that no call was made, with referee Eric Furlatt only a foot away, but Vlasic covering of the puck with his hand and it being 'missed' by Furlatt is probably just hockey karma being perfect.
- A strong forehand move from Marleau to Grubauer's blocker side, and his shot along the ice that deflected off the right post and in, was the only one to pierce twine in the shootout. Niemi's one save on Fehr, along with Alex and Nicklas' missed shots, was all the Sharks needed to escape enemy ice with both points.
A game that the Capitals could have won, this contest is one that should allow the coaching staff to pull a few positives from it (having played one of the League's best teams). Grubauer held the defensive half of the ice with a .966 SP, the Captain didn't disappoint, and Washington largely held off a San Jose team that is fifth in goals for and ninth in goals against. If it weren't for an extra sharp Niemi (.972 SP) or a post (Fehr), the night's story could've been entirely different.
The Capitals return to action tomorrow night against Metropolitan Division rival Pittsburgh Penguins - another team that Adam Oates' group can look at as a measuring stick against the best. If Washington can play like they did in the final forty minutes of tonight's contest they will be happy with the result late tomorrow evening. Puck drop is at eight.