Couture sets record in Sharks' 2-0 win over Caps

February 9, 2011, 2:27 am
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Kevin Kurz

WASHINGTON Just when it seems like theres nothing more that can be said about Sharks rookie Logan Couture, he goes and does something eye-opening again.This time, it was his seemingly harmless wrist shot from the boards that broke a scoreless tie in helping San Jose to a 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. The victory stretches San Joses unbeaten-in-regulation streak to 8-0-1, and is the third win in as many games on the teams current road trip.Coutures eighth game-winning goal at 11:55 of the third period was the biggest play of the game.Hes very opportunistic. Some guys are just pure goal scorers, and hes got that, said Dan Boyle, who added an insurance marker for the Sharks a little more than two minutes after Coutures tally. Some of the goals you might do a double-take as to how the puck went in, but it finds a way. Hes just a natural goal scorer.Its getting to the point where you dont want to call him a rookie anymore because he plays big minutes and is scoring huge goals, said coach Todd McLellan.
VIDEO: Todd McLellan postgame
Truth be told, the shot was one that probably should have been stopped by Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Couture explained how he thought the tough-angle shot found the back of the net.I was going down on a tough angle and didnt see Kyle Wellwood, so I just fired it, he said. I think Neuvirth was thinking pass, because he didnt get down quick enough and it went through his five-hole.Couture certainly wasnt alone in contributing to the win. The Sharks played yet another defensively responsible game, and when there was the rare breakdown, goaltender Antti Niemi was there to make the save. The goaltender recorded his second straight shutout and fourth of the season by making 25 saves.Its been more than 134 minutes since Niemi and the Sharks have allowed a goal, in the third period of last Wednesdays game in Anaheim.Hes smothering pucks, and our D is doing a good job letting him see pucks, said Joe Thornton. Hes in a groove right now, so well keep riding him.Just as he did on Saturday in Boston, Niemi credited a strong presence in front of him in helping to keep the opposition scoring chances to a minimum.We kept doing what we did in Boston, blocking shots and being really tight in at the net, he said.It helped a little bit that the hockey gods were on the Sharks side, as well.Referee Wes McCauleys early whistle in the first period nullified a would-be goal by Washingtons Alex Semin, who was making his return to the Caps lineup after a 12-game absence with a groin injury. Semins shot from the circle hit Niemi, but trickled between the goalies pads and eventually off of his skate and in. McCauley, standing behind the net, thought the puck was frozen and blew it dead.It should have counted.It didnt go straight through; it was going really slow. I dont know how it happened, but of course after that situation you feel a little bit lucky, admitted Niemi.The Sharks outshot the Capitals 15-9 in the first period, but Washington had the better of the scoring chances. The second period was a little bit more buttoned-up than the wide open first, but the teams were still unable to find the back of the net. Washingtons David Steckel had the best chance late in the second, after a bad turnover by Jason Demers at the Sharks defensive blue line with just over a minute remaining. Steckel raced in on a breakaway, but was unable to get a handle on the puck after trying to deke Niemi.Other than the Demers turnover, though, the Sharks defense was nearly flawless. It was a total team effort, according to McLellan.Twenty players dressed, and 20 players contributed, he said. We had great contributions from the third and fourth lines and all six defensemen found a way to have strong nights.Still, the focal point after the game was Couture, who overtook Alex Ovechkin for the league-lead in game-winning goals despite being not all that noticeable through the first two periods.He just competes so hard every night, and to be a 21-year-old kid and so composed and so complete as a hockey player is very, very impressive.San Jose has an opportunity now in its next three games to keep moving up the standings, and currently trails Dallas by just one point for the Pacific Division lead with 64. The Sharks visit Columbus on Wednesday, New Jersey on Friday and Florida on Sunday all teams that are all out of playoff position.After ending the road trip in Nashville on Feb. 15, the Sharks will host these same Capitals in their first home game back on the West Coast on Feb. 17.Until then, the aim is to keep the current streak alive.As good as things are, I dont think you see anyone too excited here, said Boyle. Weve got a lot of work ahead of us. Even with the streak were on, were still right in the middle of everything.