WASHINGTON – San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan was surprised to hear his team has won 16 of its past 17 games against the Washington Capitals.
“There isn’t a magic wand or any secret formula to beating them,” McLellan insisted.
Perhaps. A fluke of a first score, success on the power play, and two goals each by Joe Pavalski and Patrick Marleau sure do help, though. So does getting to face a goalie recalled from the minors and playing in the NHL for the first time in nearly a year.
Add it all up, and the Pacific Division-leading Sharks beat the Capitals 5-3 Monday night, as Pavelski also delivered two assists, Joe Thornton collected three assists, and Brent Burns scored on Braden Holtby, who was brought up from Hershey of the American Hockey League in the afternoon.
Capitals coach Dale Hunter might have been hoping for a spark—his team has won only three of its past 11 games to fall out of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference, and left the ice to boos—or the element of surprise, because Holtby hadn’t started for Washington since last March. Washington’s No. 1 goalie, Tomas Vokoun, was ill, and No. 2 Michal Neuvirth played Sunday in a loss at the New York Rangers.
“Neuvy played the night before there, so we figured he hasn’t played much of back-to-backs, so Holtby was ready to go,” Hunter explained. “So we tried him.”
Holtby had played Sunday, too, for Hershey, and didn’t find out he’d be headed to Washington until Monday morning. When did he find out he’d be starting?
“When I got to the rink here before the game,” Holtby said.
The Sharks didn’t know they’d face him until pre-game warmups.
“We had no idea,” McLellan said.
“Nothing changes,” San Jose defenceman Dan Boyle said. “Goalies have to be pretty good to get to this level—and most of them are.”
Holtby was hardly at his best Monday, looking little like the guy who went 10-2-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average for Washington as a rookie in 2010-11, winning his last five starts.
The Sharks went ahead 12:12 into the game on an odd score after going about eight minutes without even registering a single shot on goal. Indeed, they were coming off a power play during which the best chance for either team came when Capitals forward Brooks Laich bore down 1-on-1 during a short-handed breakaway but Thomas Greiss made one of his 39 saves.
A little more than 1 1/2 minutes later, Boyle struck a shot from beyond the red line. The puck deflected off Pavelski’s stick, bounced off the ice, then trickled off Holtby’s glove and into the net to make it 1-0 for the visitors. Pavelski was credited with his 21st goal of the season.
“You see it bounce, and you hope when you’re that far away that something stupid happens,” Pavalski said. “And it did.”
Said Boyle: “I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything like that.”
Holtby’s take? “Hit me in a weird spot in my glove and popped over,” he said.
Pavelski got his 22nd in the second period on a far-more-usual goal—one of three power-play goals scored by San Jose a night after going 0 for 4 in a loss at St. Louis. With Laich in the penalty box for cross-checking, Logan Couture centred the puck right in front of the net for Pavelski, who lifted a shot over Holtby’s glove and into the upper corner at the 3:26 mark of the second, making it 2-0.
Pavelski was credited with an assist when his shot was redirected by Marleau at the 16:11 mark of the second period; the puck hit Holtby in the right shoulder on its way in. That made it 3-0, before Greiss allowed Dmitry Orlov’s slap shot from just inside the blue line past him in the final second of the second period.
“You never want to give one up at that point. You’ve got the crowd that’s in it now. You’ve got a coach that was probably upset going in, and then within one second, he changes his mind and he’s now selling, ‘Hey, we can do this comeback’ material,” McLellan said. “But we challenged our guys. We said it’s up to them. They can choose to be on their heels or they can get on their toes and get after them. I’m glad they chose the second.”
They sure did. San Jose went up 5-1 in the third period, before Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz scored late for Washington. Those goals were inconsequential. As usual, the Sharks came out on top against the Capitals.
NOTES: The Sharks played the second game of a nine-game road trip. … Capitals F Mike Knuble was a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game. … Sharks C Tommy Wingels returned to action. He had been on injured reserve with an upper body injury and hadn’t played since Jan. 19.