Friday, February 18, 2011

A NO-point night -- Game 59: Sharks 3 - Caps 2

When we closed the preview to last night’s Caps-Sharks game by saying it would be “a return to normalcy,” losing was not what we had in mind. But the Caps did lose again – their fourth loss in five games – this time by a 3-2 count to the Sharks, extending their winless streak in San Jose to 11 games (0-10-1) since last beating the Sharks on the left coast in 1993.

The Caps got off on the wrong foot early, allowing a shorthanded goal to Joe Pavelski with less than two minutes remaining in the first period. But Alex Ovechkin got it back 22 seconds later on the same Washington power play – their only man advantage of the game – to get the Caps even at the first intermission.

That is how it remained until the third period when, in all too similar fashion to the last time these teams met, the Sharks put up a pair of goals. Ryan Clowe potted a backhand 4:27 into the third period, and Dany Heatley provided some insurance in the 11th minute of the period by getting a power play goal for the Sharks, their first in six games.

The Sharks needed that insurance as Nicklas Backstrom provided his own “Ovechkin” moment with under two minutes to go, when he collected a pass from John Carlson outside the San Jose blue line, curled into the offensive zone, cut to the middle, and wristed the puck past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi to make things interesting.

But the Caps could get only one more shot on goal in the last 1:55, a diving wrist shot by Ovechkin with nine seconds left that was turned away, and the Caps skated off with their losing streak in San Jose extended for another season.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstrom was 7-for-20 on draws last night. He was having a brutal game in that regard. So why, with 2.9 seconds left, was he taking the draw to the left of Antti Niemi against Joe Thornton instead of David Steckel, who leads the league in faceoff winning percentage? It’s not as if there was a lot of time for Steckel to display his offensive skills; all one might expect – or want – in that situation is to have him give the Caps a chance to get a shot off with a faceoff win.

-- Steckel took one draw last night (he lost it), which might have been the strangest statistic in a game that didn’t feature many memorable moments.

-- In the space of about 27 hours the Caps went from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of hockey style. From the fire wagon hockey of the 7-6 goal-fest against the Anaheim Ducks that resembled the video game from hell, to the 3-2 result last night that at times looked more like two old farts playing checkers in the park.

-- The Caps had 44 shot attempts last night, and Ovechkin has almost a third of them (13, seven of them on goal).  He seems to be getting his game back, or at least seems more energized.  Now, about the rest of the guys...

-- Speaking of shots, the Caps had the right guys taking them for the most part (Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble had 14 of the 25 shots for Washington), but it would have been nice if “Mr. Hat Trick” could follow up Wednesday’s thrill ride with more than a single shot on goal, that one coming almost 58 minutes into the game.

-- John Carlson’s stat line looked pretty good, especially in the absence of Mike Green – two assists, two shots on goal, three blocked shots in almost 24 minutes of ice time. But he got his feet tangled up on the point long enough to lose the puck to Patrick Marleau, who sped off and set up Joe Pavelski for the shorthanded goal that opened the scoring.

-- Carlson was on the ice for four of the five goals scored in this game. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad…and sometimes it’s both (two for each team).

-- Marcus Johansson got as complete an audition as he has had lately as a scoring line center. He got 18:18 of ice time last night (and won nine of 14 draws), the most he has had since getting his career high of 22 minutes and change against Ottawa 13 games ago. In his last four games, he has 14:24, 16:45, 17:10, and 18:18. Is this a final shakedown to see if the Caps need to pull the trigger on a trade to shore up that second line center position?

-- One power play opportunity… So far in 2011 the Caps have had more than three power play opportunites only five times in 20 games (averaging 2.7 game). Their success was their first in their last six games (0-for-17 in the five games preceding this one).

-- The Caps lost a game when scoring a power play goal. That’s news. They were 18-2-4 in games in which they scored a power play goal before last night, and having won three of four when allowing a shorthanded goal, as they did last night, they were 21-3-4 in games in which a goal was scored on a Caps power play.

-- Jason Chimera played only 11:22 last night, only 2:25 in the third period and not at all in the last 6:42. He is without a point in his last six games and is a minus-6 in that span, having seen his ice time cut by about a third over the last three games.

-- Three games in four nights and this being the second of a back-to-back might have taken its toll. Not only did the Caps allow those two third period goals, the Sharks outshot the Caps 14-7 in the period. They just had more jump.

-- You could say Michal Neuvirth had a “meh” performance, but the thing that is starting to bite into his GAA and save percentage is that he and his teammates have allowed a power play goal in each of his last three appearances (which would be the team’s last three games, the penalty kill going only 4-for-7). The penalty kill has sustained the Caps to the meager degree they have been able to get wins in 2011 (8-7-5 overall). That can’t falter, not unless the Caps start scoring more often on their own power play.

In the end, if you define a “successful” road trip as breaking even, the Caps now have to get three points in their last two games of this trip for it to be successful (yes, we know…Bruce Boudreau defined success as going 4-0-1). That will be a tough chore, seeing as those games are back-to-back contests against a rejuvenated Buffalo team and a resilient Penguins squad.

There might be a temptation to look at the last two games as say, “look what going all-offense did?” Well, having a banana split is nice, but you’re not going to want it at every meal. The Caps went back to eating their vegetables last night, and but for a stumble on the part of one player and an inability to force an opponent to go shorthanded might have been rewarded. They “played” better in many respects than they did against Anaheim in the 7-6 win the previous night, even to keeping their wits about them when San Jose was playing “boring.” They just didn’t win the game.

And no, that is no consolation. But they are likely to win more games by a 3-2 score than they are by 7-6 margins.