By Ivan Makarov
SAN JOSE, CA — On the night San Jose Sharks honored Evgeny Nabokov, their legendary goaltender, who announced his retirement earlier that day, the team missed some of his goaltending, allowing five goals in the losing effort against the visiting Washington Capitals. It wasn’t all Antti Niemi’s fault, but the team’s recent defensive struggles are starting to take the toll on the team.
Since shutting out Chicago Blackhawks on the last day in January, Sharks won just once in the next 6 games in February, allowing 22 goals in the process.
With Marc-Eduard Vlasic and Justin Braun still on injury reserve, Sharks defense continues to struggle against opposition, and this was on full display against offensive powerhouse Washington Capitals, lead by the league’s top scorer Alex Ovechkin.
Capitals scored first, in the first period. They had the puck behind Antti Niemi’s net, Michael Latta found Brooks Oprik with the pass who quickly threw the puck towards the net. The puck went off Sharks’ Matt Tennyson’s skate away from the net but Caps’ Jay Beagle was the first to rebound, putting the puck into the net.
Sharks tied the game and then took the lead during the first minute of the second period when Brent Burns scored twice. The first goal was a power play goal on the shot from the blue line, with Joe Pavelski screening Caps’ goaltender Braden Holtby. The second goal came on the very next shift when Burns put one fast shot from just above the face-off circle. The puck flew into the top corner.
But the lead is never safe whenever Alex Ovechkin is in the house. Sharks were killing a penalty with Ovechkin standing along the board. The puck flew his way, and bounced off the board. He stopped it and shot it towards the net. The puck wasn’t going in, but Troy Brouwer was in the crease, and fixed the direction of the puck to go into the net, tying the game at 2-2 at 6:67 mark in the second period.
Logan Couture gave the Sharks lead with 5:12 remaining in the second period when he scored a wrap around goal after grabbing a rebound from Matt Nieto’s shot and finding a whole between Holtby’s pads and a goal post. But it would not last once again, despite Sharks pushing the Caps hard in the first half of the third period.
With 8:42 remaining in the third period, Capitals scored a tying goal. Jay Beagle got a long pass from his defensive zone as he was positioned at the blue line. It was a 1-on-1 challenge against Sharks’ Mirco Mueller. But as Beagle picked up speed on that play, Mueller ran into a linesmen, who took him away from that play, and giving a breakaway to Beagle. Caps forward used that chance to his advantage, putting the puck away into the far corner. It was a bad break against the Sharks, but things happen.
Caps seized the momentum, taking the 4-3 lead two minutes later. This time it was John Carlson with the goal, which he scored off the offensive rush.
Their lead did not last long, however, with Joe Thornton tying the game once again with his 12th goal of the season. Joe Pavelski found Thornton with a nifty pass across the Caps zone, giving Thornton time to pick a spot and shoot it top shelf and over Holtby’s glove.
The game went into overtime, and Joel Ward went on to score the game winning goal for the Caps, 2:42 into it.
Sharks will next look to rebound against the Coyotes in Arizona on Friday.