Most every NHL team seems to have one opponent that it just cannot beat, no matter the year, the personnel, or the venue. For the Capitals, that team is the San Jose Sharks. Coming into Monday’s meeting of the two teams at Capital One Arena, the Caps had won just three of their previous 25 games against San Jose, dating back to the start of the 2000-01 season. And only one of those three Washington wins was achieved in regulation.
Make that four wins in 26 games, and two of them in regulation. The Caps took down the Sharks by a 4-1 count on Monday, getting a strong performance from Philipp Grubauer (24 saves) in goal, and a pair of power-play strikes that padded what had been a one-goal lead.
“It was good to get the win,” says Caps winger Brett Connolly. “They’re a good team. We’re playing pretty well right now, and we’re quite happy with this win.”
San Jose had the better of the territorial possession in the first half of the first frame in Monday’s game, but the Caps and Grubauer weathered the early push of the Sharks, who came in with a 5-1-1 mark in their seven previous road games.
As the first wore on, the Caps found their legs and began to spend some time in the attack zone. Washington’s fourth line scored early in the first period of Saturday’s game against Columbus, and that unit scored the first goal of the game late in the first frame on Monday against the Sharks.
Jay Beagle got to a loose puck behind the San Jose net, and he carried around toward the right side, exchanging it briefly with linemate Alex Chiasson. From the right corner, Beagle backhanded a feed to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson first faked a shot, then sent a drive toward the San Jose cage. Washington winger Devante Smith-Pelly was parked near the top of the paint on the right side, and he deftly deflected Carlson’s shot past San Jose netminder Martin Jones for a 1-0 Caps lead at 16:49 of the first.
Smith-Pelly’s goal was the first Jones ever surrendered in three starts in the District, ending his Capital One Arena shutout spell at 136 minutes and 49 seconds.
Before the second period was halfway over, the Caps were able to double their lead. Alex Ovechkin scooped up a loose puck high in the Washington zone, and he tore off on a breakaway. Ovechkin backhanded a shot past Jones at 7:11 of the second to extend the Caps’ advantage to 2-0. The goal was Ovechkin’s 20
th of the season.
Just after the midpoint of the middle period, Sharks winger Timo Meier halved the Washington lead, beating Grubauer from the slot. Meier’s goal came at 11:32.
Late in the second, the tenor of the game changed. While Washington was killing a penalty, Sharks center Joe Thornton put a hard hit on Caps winger T.J. Oshie, using his backside to drive Oshie’s head into the glass. After being crumpled in the corner in the immediate aftermath of the hit, Oshie went off slowly and did not return.
“He was just falling a little bit,” says Thornton. “It’s not like I hit him or anything. I bumped him. It felt kind of like my hip kind of hit him in the head. It’s just unfortunate what happened.”
Shortly after killing off that penalty, the Caps went on a power play of their own for the first time on the night. With less than a minute remaining in the second, they restored their two-goal cushion.
Kuznetsov gained entry to the zone despite being stood up at the San Jose line, and he was able to nudge the puck to Ovechkin. Ovechkin made a sublime feed to Connolly, who was filling in for Oshie on the first power play unit. Connolly roofed a backhander to the shelf, but officials did not signal that a goal had been scored on the ice. Play continued, and then a video review ensued.
A second look confirmed that the puck did indeed go into the net, but the Sharks issued a coach’s challenge, alleging the Caps were offside on the play. The officials then took a long third look, but the challenge was denied, putting the Sharks shorthanded yet again, and setting the tone for an unruly third, when San Jose was assessed a total of 10 penalties totaling 37 minutes.
Entering the third with a 3-1 lead and a power play, the Caps added a Jakub Vrana power-play goal to account for the 4-1 final, the first extra-man tally scored by Washington’s second power-play unit this season.
The other highlight of the third was Wilson challenging Thornton to a bout in the wake of the hit on Oshie. Both Wilson and Thornton were parked in the box for seven minutes – each player was also assessed a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct – and Wilson came out in time to supply an assist on Vrana’s goal.
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer wasn’t a big fan of Wilson challenging Thornton in the third, when the Sharks were down two goals and the scrap landed one of his best players in the box for seven minutes. DeBoer believes the Caps should have gone after Thornton “in the heat of the moment,” when they had Oshie crumpled in the corner and Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Nicklas Backstrom and Grubauer were the other Caps on the ice.
Of course, it was a one-goal game when DeBoer was suggesting the Caps should have gone after Thornton, and San Jose’s power play might have become a two-man advantage if an instigator minor were also assessed to Washington.
“If someone would have grabbed Joe in the heat of the moment – after the play – because they thought a liberty was taken,” says DeBoer, “then I’ve got no problem with that. But to go into the dressing room [for second intermission], think about it, come out on the first shift [of the third] and do that premeditated crap, that’s just garbage.”
Washington did a much better job of handling a two-goal lead in the third on Monday against San Jose than it did on Saturday in a 4-3 win over Columbus. Why was that?
“Well, we were on the power play for the last 10 minutes, that helped a lot,” jokes Caps coach Barry Trotz. “We managed it a little bit better. We were skating a little bit better. We still had moments where I thought we were pretty loose with the puck, and they had some real good chances.
“I thought when the game was 2-0, 2-1, Grubi was outstanding. [The Sharks] were making it very difficult for him to see and to corral around the cage, and we left him alone on a couple of odd-man situations. He stood tall, and he made a real good glove save when the game was still in doubt.
“All in all, for the most part, there were a lot of good things we did. We’ve still got to clean up some areas if we’re going to go where we want to go.”