In the battles between teams considered both perennial Stanley Cup contenders and underachievers since the lost season (2004-05), the San Jose Sharks have dominated the Washington Capitals. The opportunity to continue that trend was nearly waylaid by offensive gridlock typical of the Capitol Hill on Tuesday, January 14.
Thanks in large part to three of the pictured stars of the game, San Jose was able to play the defensive game needed to take it to a shootout. The only player to predate his team's head-to-head dominance over Washington then extended it with the only goal in the skills competition.
As David Pollack of the San Jose Mercury News pointed out in his Working the Corners blog, the Sharks came into the game 16-1 against the Capitals in this millennium. Patrick Marleau is the only player still on either team from before that era.
San Jose also actually dominates this comparison when it comes to contending rather than underachieving.
Even looking only at the last six seasons when the Capitals began winning their division regularly to be considered Stanley Cup contenders, this is lopsided. They have no appearances in the Eastern Conference finals while the Sharks have been to two Western Conference finals—only the Chicago Blackhawks have more times as a final-four team over that period.
Interestingly, seven of Washington's nine playoff series have gone to seven games. That leads to a lot of wins for a team without an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals, but being just 2-5 in those deciding games has allowed San Jose to garner seven more wins over that time despite being in the deeper Western Conference.
This game certainly had a Stanley Cup playoff feel, and the Sharks seemed better prepared for it: 30-26 edge in hits, 21-18 in blocked shots and 10-8 in takeaways despite the teams being even in faceoffs (33-33) and the Capitals having one more giveaway (8-7).
Not many penalties were called, but a critical penalty kill sealed the point in the standings for the Sharks. The final 1:20 of the third period saw the Capitals get four unanswered shots leading up to and through the power play to help them secure the edge in shots (36-29) and attempts (69-59), but Antti Niemi was in control.
The only goal Washington got was in the latter half of the second period: Kyle Alzner got the puck from Mikhail Grobovski and fed Alex Ovechkin for a sharp-angle, one-time slap into the corner before Niemi could completely seal it off. Two point-blank scoring chances were stoned in the third period alone.
San Jose's goal came from its third line comprised of two career fourth-line players and a disappointing scoring-line forward who ended his goal drought at 19 games: Andrew Desjardins got the puck to Jason Demers, whose feed to Tyler Kennedy in the slot was redirected past rookie phenom Philipp Grubauer in the second half of the opening stanza.
With the win, the Sharks raised their record against the Eastern Conference to 10-4-2 and their road record to 13-10-3. They also moved back to three points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for second place in the Pacific Division—in position for that all-important home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The loss drops the Capitals to 7-8-2 vs. the Western Conference, and they have just a game-in-hand edge over the Philadelphia Flyers for second place in the weak Metropolitan Division.