It started late in the second period when T.J. Oshie was finishing a check on Logan Couture. In doing so, he appeared to lose his balance and Joe Thornton, following in on the play, clipped Oshie’s head with his hip and jamming it into the boards. Oshie stayed down on the ice for several moments before being helped up and off the ice, not to return. No penalty was called on the play.
Justice was meted out early in the third period when Tom Wilson challenged Thornton to face the music. Thornton got a couple of early blows in, but Wilson finished him with a straight right that dropped him to the ice. Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer took exception to Wilson challenging Thornton, but Thornton shrugged it off.
Losing Oshie for any length of time would be a high price to pay, indeed, for a win such as this, even one against a club the Caps rarely beat.
-- Rarely? Absolutely. This was the first Capitals win over San Jose in regulation since they beat the Sharks by the same 4-1 margin on October 15, 2009. It was just their second win in regulation against San Jose in more than 18 years, dating back to February 1999. After last night’s win, the Caps are 4-19-3 against the Sharks in their last 26 games.
-- The scoring started late in the first period when Jay Beagle fought off Justin Braun below the Sharks’ goal line to get control of the puck. He exchanged passes with Alex Chissson before getting the puck out to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson’s first attempt at a shot was flubbed, but he took another swing, guiding the puck to the San Jose net where Devante Smith-Pelly redirected it past goalie Martin Jones at the 16:49 mark.
-- The Caps took a two-goal lead in the eighth minute when Alex Ovechkin interrupted a pass to Brent Burns for a one-timer, Ovechkin kicking the puck to the blue line where he hunted it down and took off on a breakaway. Brendon Dillon chased furiously to try to at least take away Ovechkin getting position to pull the puck to his forehand for a shot, and he managed to do so. But Ovechkin angled his body to protect the puck and lifted a backhand over Jones’ blocker to make it 2-0, 7:11 into the period.
-- Timo Meier got the Sharks within a goal four minutes later when the puck caromed strangely off the end boards right onto his stick in the low slot. However, the Caps got a late second period goal for the second straight game, courtesy of Brett Connolly, but not without a little controversy. The play started on a Caps power play when Evgeny Kuznetsov took a hit to make a play, knocked to the ice by Dylan Demelo at the Sharks’ blue line, but still managing to chip the puck to Ovechkin on his left. Ovechkin found Connolly going to the net, and Connolly roofed a backhand that at first glance seemed to hit the crossbar and carom out. Play continued for a few more seconds, during which Ovechkin rang another shot off the crossbar, before the referee stopped play. Video review clearly showed that Connolly’s shot hit the white framing bar under the net past the crossbar, thus making it a good goal, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead with just 52 seconds left in the period.
-- Jakub Vrana ended the scoring on another power play mid-way through the third period, a goal illustrating the virtues of patience. As several Caps and Sharks fought for possession of the puck in close to Jones’ right, Vrana waited patiently, stick on the ice, at the top of the crease. Eventually, the puck squirted out to him, and all he had to do was snap it into the back of the net before Jones could reposition himself.
-- Travis Boyd made his NHL debut in this game and recorded one shot on goal in 9:10. He became the first player in franchise history to wear the jersey number “72” in a regular season game.
-- Ovechkin’s goal was his 20th of the season, making him the 11th player in NHL history to score 20 or more goals in each of his first 13 seasons. He added an assist for his 302nd career multi-point game, extending his franchise record (Peter Bondra: 208). Since the 2005-2006 season, he is second in that number only to Sidney Crosby (314).
-- The Caps, as they did against Columbus on Saturday, spread things around, nine players sharing the ten points recorded. Four different players had the goals.
-- Washington had two fights for the first time since October 13th against the New Jersey Devils and the first time this season on home ice. In addition to the Wilson-Thornton fight, Alex Chiasson and Barclay Goodrow went at it in the third period after Goodrow high-sticked John Carlson. San Jose would be hit with a third major penalty late when Brendan Dillon slashed Madison Bowey with just seconds left in the game. He also received a game misconduct.
-- Lost in the noise of the scoring, the fighting, and the concern over Oshie might have been a 24-save effort by goalie Philipp Grubauer.
In the end…
On one level, it was nice to see the Caps perform well and stand firm against a team as difficult historically as the Sharks. But if it means that T.J. Oshie misses any significant time, compounded by the continued absence of Andre Burakovsky (who might return next week), it is a high, perhaps too high a price to pay for the good feeling such a win provides.
That said, this was a game that could be significant on several levels. The obvious element is winning. One regulation win in 18 years is quite a hurdle to overcome. But there were other elements, in combination, that might signal something. Ovechkin got his goal, his 20th in Game 28 (he did not get his 20th goal until Game 41 last season, and in his last 50-goal season two years ago did not hit that mark until Game 35). But there was Devante Smith-Pelly getting his second goal in four games, as did Jakub Vrana. Brett Connolly had a goal in his second straight game. The team spread their contributions around. They stood up for one another.
Maybe, just maybe, they are forging an identity here. Stay tuned.