Caps Blanked at Home by Sharks

Tuesday night’s tilt between the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals didn’t carry the same cache it might have last season. After all, the two teams were ranked first and fourth in goals per game last year but are down to 13th and 15th in 2010-11, so perhaps its not surprising that the Sharks prevailed 2-0 in what passes for an offensive explosion these days at Verizon Center.

Fans hoping for a high-flying, run and gun affair could be seen playing Angry Birds on their phone thanks to what was largely a disjointed display of dump-and-forget to chase hockey by the home team.

What happened to the hard forechecking, turnover-inducing Capitals who beat the Lightning and Penguins last weekend?

“They (the Capitals) decided to get cute since they had a little bit of success,” Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But (when) you don’t stick with the game plan bad things usually happen.”

The first two periods muddled along uneventfully as the teams remained deadlocked heading into the second intermission. David Steckel had the best chance for the Capitals late in the second frame on a breakaway chance but, after remembering that he is David Steckel, was thwarted by Antti Niemi and didn’t even record a shot.

While they hadn’t been terribly outplayed to that point, the bottom line was that the Caps only fired four shots on goal in the second and left the ice trailing 27-13 in shots after two.

The Sharks continued to dominate in time of possession and shot totals throughout the third and struck quickly with two goals in the middle of the frame when Logan Couture and Dan Boyle finally pierced Michal Neuvirth within 2:12 of each each other.

“When they get the puck in deep and cycle it, that’s when they drag out plays in the offensive zone,” said Caps defenseman Scott Hannan about his former team. “That’s where we’ve got to be better. If we were a little quicker on the puck and able to break the puck out, you’ll get your chances against them.”

To that end, the Capitals appeared to miss Mike Green’s puck-moving abilities as the All Star sat out after taking a puck to the face on Sunday.

The Capitals threatened briefly on a late power play but never broke through. The final shot totals were 36-25 in favor of the Sharks, which speaks to the amount of time San Jose spent in Washington’s end

Niemi said it best in his post-game interview.

“There weren’t too many chances for (the Capitals) in the first two periods,” the Sharks goalie said. “(The Capitals) started getting some pressure just in the last five minutes.”

Alex Ovechkin also summarized things succinctly and accurately after the game.

“We just didn’t score, we didn’t shoot the puck,” Ovechkin said. “We just didn’t get pressure on their defense.”

Boudreau and the players deserve some credit for answering questions with regularity after disappointing efforts like this one. But it’s discouraging that the Capitals continue to diagnose the problems they’re experiencing on the ice and are unable to fix them. It lends one to believe that perhaps the answers don’t lie within the locker room.

Maybe it’s simply a matter of talent, because it’s looking more and more like this team could really use an offensive upgrade.

Odds and Ends:

- A big part of the reason the Sharks dominated zone time and possession was their 59-percent success rate in the faceoff circle. Quite a dropoff for the Caps, who won 65-percent of the draws Sunday against Pittsburgh. Matthieu Perreault, the second-line center du jour, went 4-14 in the dot. He, along with Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin, never generated any sustained offense. There have been many games this season in which the need for a true second-line center is glaringly obvious, and tonight was one of them.

- Maybe it’s time to split up the Chimera-Backstrom-Ovechkin line. The trio was on the ice for both San Jose goals and Ovechkin managed just three shots on goal.

- Semin made his long-awaited return to the lineup and recorded a team-high four shots on goal. He also missed a wonderful point-blank chance late in the third which would have cut the deficit to 2-1.

- John Carlson led all skaters in ice time for the second consecutive game with 25:58. He and Karl Alzner were also on the ice for both goals against.

- Ovechkin’s average shift length was 1:05 and Semin’s was 1:06. Nobody on the Sharks averaged over 0:45. There’s no need to stay in the ice that long.

Again, what should we make of the Caps? How can they look so dominant against two awesome opponents over the weekend and then lay an egg at home two days later? It’s looking more and more likely that the jury will be out on this team until game seven of the first round.

It’s not the playoffs quite yet, but the games do matter. Tonight, for example, the Capitals blew a chance to climb to within one point of the Lightning in the Southeast Division race.

Next up for the Caps is a date with the Kings at home on Saturday followed by a five-game road trip which takes them out West and wraps up in Pittsburgh. They’ll need to bring more to the rink than they did tonight in order to overtake Tampa Bay.

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