By Mary Walsh
AP photo: The San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones stops one of 23 shots against by the Washington Caps on Saturday night
SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks defeated the visiting Washington Capitals by a score of 5-2 on Saturday. A wide variety of goals came from Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Brenden Dillon, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. A power play goal, a short-handed goal, two even strength goals and an empty netter, combined with a strong defensive game showed the Sharks to advantage against the best team in the NHL. One more win will clinch a playoff berth for the Capitals, but they would not get it Saturday.
Goaltender Martin Jones made 23 saves for the Sharks, and some of those saves were more harrowing than others. He stopped a shot from a two-on-none breakaway in the second period. He stopped a penalty shot. He stopped a couple of shots that looked fairly unstoppable. He stopped almost everything the Caps threw at him. At the other end, Philipp Grubauer also made 23 saves, but the Sharks took more shots.
Tomas Hertl drew the first penalty of the game, a slashing penalty to Jason Chimera at 5:02. The Sharks power play was not systemically weak, but they seemed to have a lot of trouble handling the puck, as if it were bouncing or sticking unexpectedly. The Capitals did not have the same problem, so one could assume the problem was the opponent and not the ice. The Sharks had two shots on goal in the power play, but no goal.
The Sharks did score first, during some confusion at the Washington end of the ice. Joe Thornton was not confused, nor was Brenden Dillon, who sent the puck to the net and created a rebound for Thornton to pick up. Assists went to Dillon and Tomas Hertl.
The Capitals responded with several good chances of their own, but the Sharks minimized their time and space. On one play, a Shark lost his footing at the Caps blue line, allowing Ovechkin to escape through the neutral zone. Some good hustle from the Sharks defense got in his way before he could get a shot off.
Despite the pressure from the Caps, the Sharks maintained a small 11-9 lead on the shot clock as the first period wound to a close. With 14 seconds left in the period, Nick Spaling was called for a high stick against Jason Chimera.
The Sharks started the second period on the penalty kill and added a second penalty just 20 seconds in, a delay of game to Brent Burns. The three defenders for the Sharks were Joel Ward, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun. They stopped a couple of shots but eventually the skilled Washington power play was too much and TJ Oshie tied the game. Assists to Niklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.
The Sharks went back on the penalty kill at 3:39, a boarding call against Joe Thornton. Couture, Martin, Burns and Karlsson started the kill, cleared the puck, and made way for a second unit of Vlasic, Braun, Marleau and Ward. The latter two broke away in the final 30 seconds of the kill for a two on one and a short-handed goal. The goal was Marleau’s, due to a last-second pass from Ward. A second assist went to Vlasic. It was Marleau’s 476th goal, putting him in 51st place among NHL all-time goal scorers.
The Caps had another excellent breakaway chance, with two skaters crossing the Sharks blue line without an escort. Sharks defenders got back in time to give the puck carrier a little grief, but he got a pass away to Matt Niskanen, who had time to take a shot. Martin Jones handled the shot cleanly and held on to the puck.
The Caps tied the game again just past the midway point. After a series of fumbles by the Sharks, from overskating the puck to drop-passing it to no one, the Caps launched a brief attack that ended with the puck taking an odd bounce off a skater in front of the net, and over Martin Jones’ pads. The goal went to Justin Williams, with assists to Evgeni Kuznetsov and Andrei Burakovsky.
The Sharks finished up the period with a power play, a hooking penalty to Kuznestov, drawn by Joonas Donskoi. The Sharks power play was interrupted when Jay Beagle earned a penalty shot when Burns slashed him during a short-handed breakaway. Jones stopped the shot and the Sharks power play carried over to the third period.
Joe Pavelski was not having a particularly good game, but 49 seconds into the third period he scored a power play goal. A fairly straight-forward play started with a pass from Brent Burns to Joe Thornton. Pavelski caught the pass from Thornton and backhanded it past Grubauer for the Sharks’ third lead of the game.
Another player’s game improved dramatically early in the third: Brenden Dillon’s. Although he already had a point, he did not have a good second period. At 2:51 of the third, however, he picked up Tierney’s pass on the blue line and sent a hard shot at the Washington net. The puck laced its way through traffic and gave Dillon his second goal of the season. Assists went to Tierney and Roman Polak. That was Polak’s first point since joining the Sharks jst before the trade deadline.
Couture had a chance shortly after that, finding himself briefly one on one with Grubauer. Grubauer snatched the puck out of the air and kept the score 4-2 Sharks.
Just past the midway point of the period, Joonas Donskoi blocked a pass with his stick and the puck deflected onto the Sharks bench, hitting Paul Martin. He left the bench with a trainer but returned to the ice during the next commercial break.
With a little over three minutes left, the referees drew the crowd’s ire after Mike Weber spent some time shoving Melker Karlsson’s face into the ice while kneeling on his back. It looked very much out of order but no penalty was called.
An empty net goal from Brent Burns closed it out.
The Sharks next play on Tuesday against the visiting Boston Bruins.