Sunday, January 08, 2012

A NO-point night -- Game 39: Sharks 5 - Capitals 2

Well, the Washington Capitals will have to wait at least another year. For the 12th consecutive time since October 30, 1993, the Capitals skated onto the ice in San Jose search of a win, and for the 12th consecutive time skated off the ice without one, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Sharks. The Caps are now 0-11-1 in those last 12 visits. Quite a price to pay, one supposes, for winning in their first three visits to San Jose after the Sharks debuted in the NHL.

Speaking of “price to pay,” the Caps might have paid one in this loss, too. Mike Green skated nine shifts and seven minutes, departing the game after the 10:06 mark of the second period with what was described lateras “tightness” in his groin. Green has now played in three games since October 22nd, leaving two of them early with injury and skating (for him) light minutes in the third.

It had the appearance of affecting the Caps, who had to finish the last 29:54 with only five defensemen. The Caps would open the third period down by a 2-1 margin, their goal coming from Dennis Wideman, who jumped into a void on the weak side and converted a nice passing play that started from Troy Brouwer on the left side to Alexander Semin behind the Sharks’ net and back out to Wideman on the other side for the shot and the goal. Joel Ward scored his first goal in 26 games 44 seconds into the third period to tie the game as reward for his winning a battle with Michal Handzus for the puck in the left wing corner. Ward steered the puck out to Jason Chimera, who sent it out to Dennis Wideman at the far point. Wideman made a good play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, then sent it to the net where it found its way onto Ward’s stick. With goalie Antti Niemi out of position from defending the first shot, Ward stepped out and fired the puck past Niemi into what was now an open net.

However, San Jose regained the lead 16 seconds after the Ward goal on what was a bad play by Karl Alzner. First, his half-clearing attempt/half pass up the left wing wall was muffled enough by Joe Pavelski that Dan Boyle could keep the puck in at the blue line. Boyle sent the puck diagonally across the ice to Joe Thornton, who deftly backhanded the puck to Patrick Marleau, who beat Alzner to the front of the net. Marleau slipped the puck past goalie Tomas Vokoun, and the Sharks had the lead they would not surrender.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who took advantage of some questionable judgment from defenseman Dmitry Orlov, scored the insurance goal mid-way through the period. Orlov got caught chasing Ryan Clowe at the top of the right wing circle. Clowe backed off Orlov, pulling the puck out of Orlov’s reach, then sending it to Vlasic darting toward the Washington net. With only Dennis Wideman and Alexander Semin back, Vlasic was able to use his skate to control the puck, shoot, then snap in his own rebound before either Wideman or Semin could do anything.

And empty net goal from Torrey Mitchell closed the scoring and ended the Caps winning streak at four games, extending their winless streak in San Jose to 12 games.

Other stuff…

-- One of the keys was to “make it special.” That is, San Jose is an effective 5-on-5 team, so the Caps had to win the special teams battle. They did not. They did get one goal on the power play on their only opportunity of the night. But the Sharks matched the Caps with a power play goal by Brent Burns with only nine seconds left in the second period. With San Jose skating to form and winning the 5-on-5 portion of the game, 3-1 (one of those was an empty netter, and the Sharks scored a fourth even-strength goal at 4-on-4), it was not going to end well with so few power play opportunities. The lack of opportunity was especially unfortunate given San Jose’s league worst penalty kill at home.

-- Nice to see Joel Ward end that long streak without a goal. Better to see the way he did it – win a battle, go to the net, convert a loose puck. The Caps need a lot more of that, not just from Ward, but other guys whose living is made at the front of the net.

-- Maybe it’s a western thing. The 39 shots the Caps allowed was the most they allowed since giving up 43 to Vancouver on October 29th. The last four times the Caps have allowed more than 35 shots on goal, they did so to Western Conference teams (Vancouver, Dallas, Columbus, and San Jose).

-- Not a good night for the captain. Alex Ovechkin saw his points streak ended at seven games, he was held to three shots on goal (seven attempts), took a roughing penalty and was on ice for three Shark goals (including the empty-netter).

-- You could just chalk it up to almost a lost cause for the Young Guns in general. With Nicklas Backstrom out, Mike Green leaving early, and Alex Ovechkin getting shutout points-wise, Alexander Semin did record an assist (on the Wideman power play goal) but managed only one shot on goal and was one of the Caps (with Wideman) who got a good look at the Vlasic goal that put space between the Sharks and Caps at 4-2.

-- The Caps had to go with five defensemen to fill in the minutes left on the ice with Green off it, but the Sharks were playing their fourth game in six nights, too.

-- The Sharks have been playing clean hockey of late – one power play opportunity allowed in their last two games (including this one).

-- That whole allowing no third period goals streak ended with a thud. The Caps had outscored teams, 10-0, in third period over their last six games. Last night, they were outscored, 3-1, in the third period.

-- Caps fans were given a chilling look at life without Nicklas Backstrom and the lack of center depth behind him. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, and Jeff Halpern combined for no points, six shots on goal, won only 25 of 60 draws (41.7 percent, each of the three falling under 50 percent), and had one takeaway (Johansson).

-- The Caps were out-attempted, 75-60, in shots and out-shot, 39-30. Only Douglas Murray for the Sharks did not record a shot on goal. It was by no means Tomas Vokoun’s best game in goal for the Caps – not even his best game this week. But San Jose was too successful in tilting the ice to the Capitals’ end.

-- Part of that tilt was the Caps’ inability to win draws in their own end. They were 10-for-29 on defensive zone draws (34.5 percent). That there were only 21 draws in the San Jose end is another indicator of the tilt in the ice.

In the end, one might think this was a game for the taking after Joel Ward tied the game in the first minute of the third period. But that was probably a mirage. San Jose dominated zone possession, and the Caps were skating with more or less four defensemen after Mike Green retired for the night (John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dennis Wideman, and Roman Hamrlik all skated more than 22 minutes).

And it does not get much better. The Caps now go to Los Angeles, where at least they have won since the invention of the hockey stick (December 14, 2005), but will play a team in the Kings that has won the last four decisions between the teams by a combined score of 16-8.


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