Caps Fall to Sharks in Shootout
By: Mark Solway 
Posted: 2007-02-22
Category: Washington Capitals News
The Washington Capitals had a rare Wednesday night game at the Verizon Center against the San Jose Sharks. In what ended up being a very physical affair, the Sharks snapped a three game losing streak, and Washington came away on the losing side of a shootout for the seventh time in eight attempts this season.

It started out quite promising for Washington when they not only scored on two of their first four shots, but got the goals from two less likely candidates. They opened the scoring on a rare goal from Shaone Morrison when he hammered in a slap shot from the point at 9:52 of the first period. It was just the second of the season for the stay-at-home defenseman, and his first since the beginning of November.

The Caps extended their lead to two less than a minute later. Jamie Heward wristed a shot at the net from the blue line, that Donald Brashear tipped in front of the net. San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov stopped the initial deflection, but Brashear kept the play alive by slapping at the rebound which then bounced out to Brian Sutherby. Sutherby whacked the loose puck into the yawning net for his second goal in the last two games, but just his fifth of the year. Brashear, Sutherby and Richard Zednik formed a new line on Tuesday in Montreal, and have played two very solid games together.

The Sharks got a big goal when they cut the deficit in half before the end of the first period. Patrick Rissmiller took a right-wing pass from Mike Grier to get the Sharks back to within one at 17:02 of the first.

The score stayed that way through the second period and into the third, until Matthew Carle evened it up at 2-2 on the power play at 5:49. San Jose has the best power play unit in the league, but they have struggled of late scoring just four times in their last 31 man advantages.

Were it not for a great effort from goalie Brent Johnson, the Capitals would have never even had the opportunity to play for the extra point in overtime and the shootout. Johnson was solid in the net again for Washington. After being pasted in the third period by the Montreal Canadians on Tuesday night, and arriving back to Washington late, there was some question as to how Johnson's fitness and legs would be in his first true back-to-back outing in years. After the game in the dressing room, Johnson said that he felt really good after getting a good sleep, and he didn't think it was a factor. It certainly didn't look it as he turned away 26 of 27 shots in the second and third periods alone.

Unfortunately for Johnson, his 34 saves on the night would not be enough. Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Pavelski both scored in the shootout to earn the Sharks the victory and extend their domination of the Capitals to ten straight games. Matt Pettinger scored the first penalty shot for Washington, but Alex Ovechkin was poke checked and when Alexander Semin rang his penalty shot off the iron for the second night in a row, the Caps' fate was sealed.

In the post game press conference, coach Glen Hanlon offered the proper perspective for his young team as he so often does, "We focus on the positives. We keep on trying to emphasize the things we do well, and we'll do it again tomorrow, and we'll keep on correcting mistakes."

At this point, Hanlon should look to the future of this team, not the present. The future appears very bright with many young stars, but sitting eleven points out of the playoffs with just twenty one games to go means that there will not likely be any post season action this year in Washington.

Hanlon was also asked if superstar Ovechkin's recent scoring slump was something that he would ultimately benefit from; "I think long term it makes you stronger and I think it makes you delve into what makes you play well. There are very few players in the National Hockey League that go from start to finish in their careers without having a little bit of a stall; especially the offensive guys. So we know that he'll get back to scoring, and we just want him to keep his same outlook on the game and don't lose sight of that."

While Ovechkin continues to struggle offensively, that 'outlook on the game' was certainly evident against the Sharks. Goals or no goals, Ovechkin was a beast in the third and overtime periods. He had four or five stiff body checks, and his spirit and physical presence alone kept his young team in the game.

Still, he now has just one goal in his last nine games, and the Russian phenomenon is certainly not quite himself lately. He has really hit a wall since the NHL All-Star Break, and there are whispers that Ovechkin's off ice hockey obligations are wearing the young man a little thin.

Last night it looked a lot more like a case of hard luck than fatigue for Alex though. The proverbial monkey will be shaken from his back before long and if nothing else, his slight drop off has exposed the Capitals' need for a few more pieces for the puzzle before they can be a solid contender.

With the playoffs now seemingly out of reach, perhaps George McPhee can be more aggressive and creative with trade deadline moves. With the hottest commodities on the market being 40-year old Gary Roberts in Florida, and Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis, the buzz is that the Peter Forsberg trade has made asking prices ridiculous. Teams like the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs would love to add Roberts before the deadline, but just aren't willing to mortgage their future to do so.

This creates a great trade environment for second tier guys like Dainius Zubrus and Richard Zednik. Both are proven twenty-plus goal scorers, both are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and while the Capitals could try to re-sign one or both of them in the off season anyway, why not 'loan' them out if it can bring the team more young talent and draft picks?

It's a seller's market, and the Capitals could capitalize.
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