Two nights after turning in one of their most dismal performances of the season in Columbus, the Caps put together one of their most complete efforts of the season in a 5-1 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Thursday night. T.J. Oshie scored twice and added an assist, and he reached the 500-point plateau for his NHL career in the process.
"I'd say for 60 minutes that was one of our better games for sure, just in terms of how we managed the puck," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "We didn't give up a ton of odd-man rushes against a very dangerous team, and that's one of our more complete efforts for sure tonight."
Facing the Sharks in San Jose has never been easy for the Caps, and their hosts entered Thursday night's game with a daunting 18-4-4 record and a six-game winning streak that started with a win over Washington in the District on Jan. 22.
Video: Oshie scores twice to earn 500th career point in win
"We wanted to come out an win this game because we had a tough game a couple of nights ago," says Oshie. "And our team was trending in the right direction and that was maybe a little, small setback. So this was a big game to get us back on track, and every guy to a man in the lineup tonight did a good job of that."
Washington was a bit wobbly at the start of Thursday's game, but the Caps pulled it together quickly and turned in one of their stronger first periods of late. But they fell down a goal first.
San Jose's Kevin Labanc took a cross-ice feed from Joe Thornton and beat Braden Holtby from the right dot to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 2:06 of the first.
Just over a minute later, Dmitry Orlov drew a tripping call on San Jose's Joe Pavelski in the Washington zone, giving the Caps an early power play opportunity. The Caps needed only 11 seconds with which to pull even. Alex Ovechkin fired a shot from the office, and Sharks netminder Martin Jones made the save, but couldn't corral the rebound. Puckhound Oshie got to it first, near the left post. From below the goal line, he chipped it in from no angle to knot the score at 1-1 at 3:38.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | February 14
"[Ovechkin] did a good job of getting the puck to the net there," recounts Oshie. "I thought [Jones] had it; I was just kind of skating by and I saw it laying behind him. I know [Evgeny Kunzetsov] and their D-man are over there [at the opposite post], and I kind of just tried to throw it to the pile to either bounce off someone or at least lay there for Kuzy to bang home. I just got lucky."
Washington went in front just past the midpoint of the period, getting a Jakub Vrana goal off a three-on-two rush. After taking a feed from Oshie, Vrana tried to pass to Nicklas Backstrom, but a Sharks defender broke up the pass bid and the puck bounced right back to Vrana. He quickly buried it to lift the Caps to a 2-1 lead at 11:33.
Early in the second, the Caps added to their lead on an Ovechkin goal in transition. Tom Wilson collected the puck in neutral ice and noted some running room along the right side, so he carried into the zone and left the puck for Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov surveyed patiently, then found a seam and fed Ovechkin at the left dot. From there, the Caps' captain fired home his 39th goal of the season to extend the Washington lead to 3-1 at 4:14 of the middle stanza.
Another power play opportunity nearly produced another Ovechkin goal; his shot rang off the iron and a Jones stopped a couple of Oshie whacks from the slot to keep the Caps at bay, but it was only temporary.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | February 14
Late in the period, Washington scored its fourth unanswered goal on a broken play that morphed into a short-ice breakaway for Oshie, who is lethal in such situations. He scored his second of the game and 18th of the season, collecting his 500th career NHL point in the process. The late goal enabled the Caps to carry a 4-1 lead into the third.
In the third, the Caps managed the puck and the game expertly, and they were able to draw two power plays in the final frame as well. Tom Wilson accounted for the 5-1 final count with an empty-netter at 17:25 of the third. Wilson's goal was his 15th of the season, a career high.
Thursday's win certainly helped atone for Tuesday's debacle in Columbus. The Caps showed commitment and a high compete level in all three zones. They were also disciplined, taking just one minor penalty in the second period.
"It just seemed that from the drop of the puck, guys were excited to play," says Oshie. "Guys were just happy and having fun. If anyone knows anythinga bout this team, we play our best when we're having fun."