A year ago the Capitals and Sharks were two of the premier offensive teams in the NHL, combining for 582 goals over the course of the 2009-10 season. This season has been a different story, however, with each team hovering around the middle of the League in terms of goal-scoring despite the bevy of high-priced, high-powered offensive talent on their respective rosters.
So unlike the last time they faced off, expectations for a run-and-gun, goal-filled game were considerably tempered and all signs pointed to a more grinding effort. And for most of the game, those expectations were met as the Caps and Sharks traded chances - and their goalies traded saves - in a stalemate that spanned almost 52 minutes.
It was two goals in a three-minute stretch that rudely interrupted the war of attrition, however, and it was a hole far too deep and dug far too late for the Caps to climb out of it.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps finished the night with 25 shots on goal, a relatively respectable number against a team that is notoriously stingy when it comes to giving up shots. The scary thing, though, is that this number is somewhat inflated by a twelve-shot third period - the only period in which they cracked double digits, and one which followed a horrifically weak four shot effort in the second. Too many passes, too many opportunities passed up and just not enough second and third chances on a goalie who didn't look particularly steady early on.
- Of course, that low shot total was helped by San Jose's penchant for shot-blocking, with just as many shots hitting bodies as hit the net. We've seen this episode before - when a team is getting into shooting lanes and blocking everything in sight, the onus is on the shooter to adjust and find a lane. The Caps didn't, and a big zero on the scoreboard is all they have to show for it.
- Jason Chimera has had some success skating alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top line, but there are times when his limited abilities are glaringly obvious. Tonight that was often the case, as he'd skate too far into the offensive zone and eliminate any chance of either getting a good shot on net or making a pass to one of his more talented linemates. It was far too easy for defenders to simply angle him to the perimeter, and they didn't have to work to take away options - he did it himself.
- It's unfortunate that the offense ramped up so suddenly and questionably on Michal Neuvirth, who - until the midway mark of the third period, at least - was having another stellar outing. He finished the night with 34 saves on 36 shots, many of the spectacular and/or lucky kind, a total that included stopping all 27 shots faced in the opening forty minutes.
- In the seven games prior to this one, Karl Alzner had been on the ice for just one goal-against. He doubled that amount in just a three minute span in the third, as he was on the ice for both San Jose goals. Hard to pin either one directly on him, however, and he did pick up four blocked shots, but the numbers just got a little less pretty for the young blueliner.
- All eyes were on Alexander Semin tonight as he returned to the lineup from a groin injury exactly one month after his last game. There was a bit of rust evident but he seemed to be skating well, drew a penalty, fired a team-high four shots on net, made a few fancy passes both good and ill-advised and shot a few pucks high and wide. In other words...he's back.
- With both teams mucking up the neutral zone and taking away passing lanes, tonight's game became one of board battles - and it was an area in which the Caps struggled, failing to establish much in the way of an offensive zone presence and allowing the Sharks to set up and cycle far too often in their own zone. It showed in the shot totals and at the end of the night it showed on the scoreboard.
- The return of Tyler Sloan to the lineup wasn't quite as anticipated as Semin's, but with Mike Green joining Tom Poti on the sidelines the time had finally come for #89 to make his return. And just as Semin had a highly Semin-esque game, Sloan had a Sloan-esque game - blending a few good plays with a few questionable ones and making it through his 14:38 of ice time relatively (and mercifully) unscathed. Hard to ask for (or at least expect) much more.
- Speaking of injuries on the blue line, it was a scary moment towards the end of the second period when Scott Hannan went into the boards awkwardly, came up slowly and headed to the dressing room before the buzzer sounded. Thankfully he didn't miss a shift and was able to complete a fairly solid game against his old team.
- Against one of the League's best power plays, the Caps were wise to stay disciplined and took just one minor penalty all night, which they killed off. That they drew a whopping two minor penalties and capitalized on exactly none of them, however, was not quite as nice.
After two solid wins, one in a "must-win" battle with a Southeast rival and one with the always effort-inspiring Penguins, the question heading into tonight was whether this team could summon up the same work ethic, the same grit, the same timely offense in a game against a relatively unknown Western Conference opponent.
After 60 minutes tonight, the reviews are decidedly mixed...on the one hand, they held the Sharks off the board for most of the game and have now gone ten games without allowing more than two goals in regulation. On the other, they failed to generate any offense let alone any offensive pressure, seemed content to let Neuvirth carry the load for long stretches and let San Jose tilt the ice. And at the end of the night the Caps, a team that was blanked just once all last season, were shutout for the eighth time this season - tied for most in the League.
Over the next week the Caps will face several Western Conference opponents (including a rematch with San Jose) - time to figure out how to channel the energy of their last two games into their next four, or they'll see more than just the division title start to slip out of reach.