The Caps parlayed two own-goals off San Jose Sharks and a pair of scores in the trick shot competition into a 3-2 win over the Sharks for their first win in San Jose since October 30, 1993.
The odd proceedings got off and running mid-way through the first period on a goal that the official scorer could not settle on in terms of to whom it would be credited. The play started in the San Jose end when Eric Fehr stripped Logan Couture of the puck at the right wing wall. Jason Chimera beat Couture to the loose puck and skated it into the corner where he tried to send a pass in front to Joel Ward. The puck skidded instead to Eric Fehr who snapped a shot at goalie Antti Niemi. The shot was muffled in front. Justin Braun tried to clear the puck back up the left side, but as he was doing so teammate Matt Nieto skated into the path of his clearing attempt. The puck struck Nieto and found its way into the back of the net to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 11:25 into the game. The goal was credited to Fehr, then to Joel Ward, and back to Fehr again.
That would have been a great way to go into the first intermission. It would have been, but then again, these are the Caps. With 15 seconds left in the period, a lot of things went wrong for the Caps in, well, less than 15 seconds. It started when Jack Hillen could not settle a bouncing puck outside the Caps’ blue line. It gave Matt Nieto a chance to get a step on Hillen, but Nieto could not control the puck, either. He did manage to swat it into the corner to goalie Braden Holtby’s right. Mike Green went to retrieve the puck having to do nothing more than send an indirect pass off the end boards to Hillen on the other side of the net below the goal line.
Green’s backhand attempt was weak, though, and it was picked off by Nieto before reaching Hillen. Nieto skated out from behind the Capitals’ cage and took two whacks at the puck. Holtby defended both but could not cover the puck. The puck squirted free, and when Green chose to defend Logan Couture cruising through the slot looking for a rebound, he left Patrick Marleau free at the top of the crease. The puck found its way to Marleau, and before Troy Brouwer could tie him up, Marleau flipped the puck into the open side of the net to tie the game with 5.9 seconds left in the period.
After a scoreless second period, the Caps conjured up the ghosts of games lost in this building. Jason Chimera tried to send the puck to the Sharks’ net. His attempt hit the shin pads of James Sheppard and rebounded out into the neutral zone. Sheppard collected the puck and steamed in on a breakaway. Sheppard hinted briefly at a backhand aimed over Holtby’s glove, but when Holtby bit, the ruse was revealed. Sheppard slid the puck between Holtby’s pads along the ice, and the Sharks had a 2-1 lead five minutes into the period.
Then it was time for the hockey gods to make some restitution for years of misfortune for the Caps. Twelve minutes into the period Tom Wilson skated the puck down the right wing wall into the Sharks’ zone. He was stood up inside the line by defenseman Scott Hannan, who turned to collect the puck in the corner. Wilson followed up on the play and caught Hannan behind the net, separating him from the puck. The puck slid away onto the stick of Dustin Penner, who wasted no time sending the puck in front to Chris Brown. From the edge of the left wing circle Brown wristed the puck at the San Jose net. The puck was deflected off the leg of Matt Nieto, then off the jersey of Dan Boyle and past Niemi to knot the score at two apiece.
That would be how regulation ended. After a scoreless overtime in which the Caps outshot the Sharks, 5-0, it went to the freestyle competition. Evgeny Kuznetsov led things off for the Caps and beat Niemi on a shot that looked almost identical to the one on which he beat Jonathan Quick on Thursday, low over the right pad. Patrick Marleau tied it up in the top of the third, leaving it up to Nicklas Backstrom. Skating toward the Shark’s net in an agonizingly slow manner, Backstrom faked Niemi to his knees, then flipped a backhand over his glove to give the Caps a win more than 20 years in the making, 3-2.
-- The Caps seem finally to have discovered defense. The two goals allowed to San Jose made it nine straight games in which the Caps allowed three or fewer goals. Considering the competition, allowing 2.22 goals per game over that stretch is rather remarkable.
-- On the other side, the two goals scored made it seven times in those nine games that the Caps scored three or fewer goals. Scoring 2.11 goals per game over that span (and being shut out twice) is why the Caps are 5-3-1 in those games.
-- From the official scorer follies file, see if you can figure out what is wrong in this picture (click on it for a larger image)…
-- Chris Brown became the 26th Capital to record a goal this season. That is the most to record a goal with the club since they had 28 skaters get goals in the 2010-2011 season. Brown is the sixth Cap this season to record his first NHL regular season goal. The others are: Julien Brouillette, Michael Latta, Connor Carrick, Nate Schmidt, and Tom Wilson.
-- The Caps were routed in the faceoff circle, losing 45 of 65 draws (30.8 winning percentage). They were 5-for-21 in the offensive zone (23.8 percent). Troy Brouwer was the only Capital to reach the 40 percent winning mark, going 2-for-5 (40 percent).
-- If there was something unusual about this game…ok, if there was something else unusual about this game, it was not that the Sharks out-shot the Caps, 36-25, but rather that the Caps finished virtually even in shot attempts, San Jose registering 61 shot attempts and the Caps finishing with 59.
-- The Caps did allow 11 shots on goal in six minutes of penalty killing time. Braden Holtby turned all of them away, including all four on a late power play in the third period that could have sealed the deal for the Sharks and kept the Caps’ winless streak in San Jose alive.
-- Speaking of penalty kill, skating off three of three shorthanded situations makes the Caps a perfect 19-for-19 over their last six games.
-- That Ovechkin-Beagle-Johansson line? It had five shots on goal. Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal. The line had ten shot attempts. Ovechkin had eight shot attempts. Does anyone really think this is a good idea? I mean, other than gentlemen in suits standing behind the Capitals’ bench.
-- Nicklas Backstrom’s star turn in the Gimmick tied him with Alex Ovechkin for the most appearances in the trick shot competition this season (15). Ovechkin sat this one out, only his second absence from the white carpet in 17 freestyle competitions this season for the Caps and his first when healthy (he was injured in the Caps’ 3-2 Gimmick win against Florida on November 2nd).
-- Justin Braun had one of the stranger lines on a score sheet you will see for the Sharks. In almost 20 minutes he had five blocked shots. That’s it. No shots, no shot attempts, no penalties, no hits, no turnovers, nothing. Just five blocked shots.
-- The Caps could almost count this as a win, possession-wise. In 5-on-5 close score situations the Caps had Corsi-for/Fenwick-for percentages of 49.4/45.3. In all even strength situations the numbers were 52.0/48.5.
In the end…
Five of six points in California. Here is how rarely that has happened in Capitals history…
In no three-game trip to California have the Caps ever won five of six available points. Chances are that not even the most red-rocked Capitals fan thought this would be the year in which it would happen. Three of six points, taken on its own merits without the baggage of the Capitals’ precarious playoff situation, would have been viewed as a success.
Even with the successful western road trip the Caps find themselves jetting back across the country a tiebreaker out of a playoff spot, and the team with which they are tied (Detroit) has two games in hand. The schedule does not get easier with games against Los Angeles and Boston on the home slate this week, either.
Of immediate concern is Jaroslav Halak’s health (he was a game-day scratch against the Sharks with a lower body injury) and “What’s My Line?” with Alex Ovechkin. However, what the Caps have done better is win one-goal games, going 4-1-1 in such decisions over their last eight games. Playing close games and succeeding might serve them well down the stretch.
It had better. The schedule will not be kind to them. Of the eight teams in front of them in the Eastern Conference, four of them within four points of the Caps, Washington plays only Tampa Bay down the stretch, and they do not face the Lightning until the season finale. The Caps will need help as they head for the season’s finish line, but unless they help themselves to more wins, it won’t matter. But this win does feel good.