San Jose Sharks defenseman Nicolas Meloche, center, celebrates his goal against the Washington Capitals with teammates Matt Nieto, left, and Andrew Cogliano at the Capital One Arena in DC on Wed Jan 26, 2022 (AP News photo)
By Mary Walsh
The San Jose Sharks (22-19-2) defeated the Washington Capitals (23-12-9) 4-1 Wednesday in Washington DC. Noah Gregor, Nicolas Meloche, Jonathan Dahlen and Andrew Cogliano scored for the Sharks. James Reimer made 32 saves for the win. Daniel Sprong scored for Washington and Ilya Samsonov made 26 saves in the loss.
Odds were long that any team would beat the Capitals on Wednesday. It was their first back to back regulation loss of the season. The Sharks, on the other hand, had something to prove after a 7-1 loss against Tampa Bay last Saturday. Of Wednesday’s game, Sharks Head Coach Bob Boughner said:
“It was definitely a response game. You saw the things that we didn’t do against Tampa, the desperation, the urgency, some depth scoring, the blocking of the shots, sacrificing for each other. I think that was what we stressed the last couple of days, it was about showing up, responding and picking ourselves off the floor.”
The Sharks will be without defenseman Erik Karlsson until mid-March and it does not seem that reinforcements are on the way. Nikolai Knyzhov and Jacob Middleton are both still out with injuries.
One player who will get more responsibility in light of those absences is Nicolas Meloche. Of his performance Wednesday, Boughner said: “I really liked him down in the trenches, I thought he was big and heavy, I thought he was physical, he won a lot of battles, made some good plays on some exits. So, that’s what we need from Mel every night.”
Noah Gregor scored the first goal of the game at 7:41 of the first. Tomas Hertl carried the puck up to the point before passing it back to Burns, who was in the face-off circle. Burns spun and passed it across the slot to Gregor, who was lurking near the far corner of the net to put the puck over the line. It was Gregor’s second of the season.
The Sharks outshot the Capitals 14-8 in the first period, but won only 48% of the face-offs.
Nicolas Meloche made it 2-0 Sharks at 3:58 of the second. Matt Nieto gathered up a turnover at the Capitals blue line and raced into the zone with Andrew Cogliano. Nieto made a pass to a trailing Meloche, who took a quick shot from the slot to score his first NHL goal.
The Capitals led in shots 11-7 for the second period, and their power play got three shots on goal in two tries. The Sharks also had a power play but the Washington penalty kill prevented any shots against and got one short-handed shot to boot. In the face-off circle, the Sharks improved drastically to 79%.
Daniel Sprong scored for Washington 14 seconds into the third period. The puck went off of the linesman’s leg in a face-off in the Sharks’ zone. Nicklas Backstrom got to it first and sent it up to Sprong aboce the face-off circle. Sprong’s shot went through a line of traffic and in.
The Sharks took a delay of game penalty at 13:19. Logan Couture was trying to clear the puck out and he hit Brent Burns and the puck went out of play. Matt Nieto had a nice breakaway chance during the ensuing penalty kill but Samsonov stopped it. Apart from that, the Sharks could not clear the puck until the final 20 seconds of the kill, but they did kill it. Washington got four shots during the power play.
Sortly after that, Timo Meier and Alexander Ovechkin went hard at the Washington net and Ovechkin fell into Samsonov. Samsonov was down for bit but stayed in the game.
With 3:09 left in the game, Jonathan Dahlen made it 3-1 for the Sharks. Dahlen carried the puck into the zone and then pulled up to wait while Nick Bonino got to the net for a fly-by screen. As Bonino passed in front of the goalie, Dahlen’s shot skipped over Samsonov’s pad. It was Dahlen’s first goal in fifteen games. Timo Meier got the assist.
Andrew Cogliano made it 4-1 with an empty net goal at 19:39. Logan Couture got the assist.
Garnet Hathaway and Jonah Gadjovich fought to a draw after the final horn.
The Sharks blocked 23 shots in Wednesday’s game. They were barely out-shot by the Capitals 33-30. The Sharks won 54% of the face-offs.
The Sharks next play on Saturday in Florida against the Panthers at 3:00 PM PT.