The Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks played a chess match last night, matching each other with solid defensive play and sound penalty killing on the few powerplay chances afforded to either side. The game remained scoreless through 52 minutes until Sharks rookie Logan Couture scored his league-leading 8th game-winning goal on a low-angle wrister to stop Michal Neuvirth‘s shutout streak at 130:24. Defenseman Dan Boyle added an insurance tally two minutes later off a Dany Heatley feed from below the goal line. The Caps had a late flurry that included their second powerplay chance with just 3 minutes left, but Sharks goalie Antti Niemi was equal to the task, stopping all 25 shots he faced. Neuvirth stopped 34 of 36 shots.
The Good: The Capitals’ defense and goaltending. Except for a 2:12 stretch in the third period, they shut down the Sharks without their top-minute defenseman, Mike Green. The only penalty the Caps took was John Erskine clearing the crease, cross-checking Joe Thornton into the goal.
Alexander Semin‘s return was marked by a much needed boost in creativity, especially on the powerplay. He drew the early powerplay, fired 4 shots on goal, and avoided being slew-footed by Dan Boyle. The difference between a Sharks shutout and a 3 point night for Semin totaled 5 inches. Should Green return Saturday versus the Kings, it is likely the Caps powerplay will start scoring again at their accustomed pace.
The Bad: The officiating in this game left something to be desired. There were only three penalties called in the game, though there is something to be said for letting the boys play. More importantly, just a few minutes into the game, Alexander Semin fired a shot on goal that trickled through Antti Niemi’s pads and into the goal for what should have been an early Caps lead, but the referee had already blown the play dead, a decision that very likely cost the Caps the game.
The Ugly: David Steckel‘s breakaway in the second period. Steckel intercepted a D-to-D pass at the Sharks blueline and raced in alone on Antti Niemi. Steckel made a nifty move to get Niemi to commit, he deked, then dumped the puck into the corner.