SAN JOSE – It’s impossible to pinpoint any single area of the Sharks’ game that was below par in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals on Saturday night at SAP Center.
The power play went 0-for-3, but the top unit looked strong, and generated several good opportunities in the closing minutes of the third period with Alex Ovechkin in the penalty box.
Antti Niemi allowed two goals, but could not be faulted for either one, as they both deflected off of Sharks bodies in what can only be considered bad luck.
Offensively, the Sharks outshot Washington 36-25, and defensively the penalty kill remained sharp as a tack, and has now allowed only one goal in its last eight games. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had hardly any impact on the game.
Sure, the Sharks failed to clinch a playoff spot and a share of the overall points lead in the Western Conference, but after Thursday’s emotional win against Anaheim, their effort and execution against an improving Capitals team was nothing to be ashamed of.
“Did we accomplish what we set out to do? Score-wise, we didn’t, but did a lot of things that we talked about before the game,” coach Todd McLellan said. “I thought we played pretty solid defensively against a pretty good offensive team. They like to run-and-gun, and go after you. The goals were just puck luck. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
James Sheppard, whose third period goal gave the Sharks their first lead of the night, said: “They got a couple lucky goals. Those bounces you don’t see too often, especially two in one game.”
Sheppard’s breakaway conversion was the highlight of the night for the home team. The current third line center has two goals, eight assists and a +8 rating in his last 14 games after failing to hold down a spot on the active roster for the first half of the season.
He snuck a backhander through Braden Holtby, breaking a 1-1 tie about five minutes into the final frame. The play started in his own zone, though, when he blocked a Jason Chimera shot near the blue line.
“They were trying to swing it to the net, luckily [got] in front of it and just had some momentum to get down the ice,” Sheppard said. “Luckily, I got it through his five-hole.”
McLellan said: “[The key to that] is being in the shooting lane and backchecking to the right spot, and willing to get hit with the puck and go the other way. That gives you a sense of what coaches look at, and even what his teammates look at. They’ll look to the blocked shot, and then the goal.”
Chris Brown tied it on a puck that deflected off of Matt Nieto and Dan Boyle with 7:30 to go in regulation. In the first period, Eric Fehr was credited with a goal when Justin Braun tried sweeping a puck out of the crease, but right into Nieto’s leg and in the net.
Nieto generated the Sharks’ first goal with less than five seconds left the first period, taking advantage of a bad Mike Green turnover and making a strong move to the blue paint that resulted in Patrick Marleau’s 30th marker of the season. That tied it at 1-1.
“As for the bounces, those are unfortunate,” Nieto said. “These kind of things happen so fast, you can’t really react to them. I thought we played solid.”
The Sharks still lead the NHL with 10 shootout wins, but saw their string of seven straight tiebreaking wins come to an end. There was some satisfaction with earning their 100th point in the standings, though, now three ahead of idle Anaheim.
“We played well,” Joe Thornton said. “We probably should have won the game, but we didn’t. We’ve just got to continue getting points. With 10 games left, every point’s going to be important from here on in.”