SAN JOSE, Calif. - Coach Todd McLellan insisted his San Jose Sharks had a good bit of rink rust after a four-day layoff. He thought their legs were heavy and their passes weren't crisp for about 30 minutes.
That was news to the Washington Capitals, who couldn't spot a weakness while getting routed by the NHL's overall leaders.
Ryane Clowe scored two goals, Rob Blake had four assists and San Jose improved to 17-3-1 with a 7-2 victory over the road-weary Capitals on Saturday night.
Joe Thornton and captain Patrick Marleau each had a goal and an assist for San Jose, which improved to 11-0-1 at the Shark Tank with yet another dominant puck-possession performance. Mike Grier scored with 52.3 seconds to play, allowing San Jose to match its highest goal total of the season.
McLellan knows it's important to avoid complacency when everything is going so well for the Sharks, but he doesn't think it'll be a problem with San Jose's veteran leadership.
"It's never the same when you have that many days off, but it's a lesson learned," he said. "This could be (like) a playoff series, where you have that many days between games."
Playoff talk in late November doesn't seem absurd with the Sharks, who already lead second-place Anaheim by 10 points in the Pacific Division. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Devin Setoguchi also added a goal and an assist as the Sharks found their legs in plenty of time to finish the Capitals, who haven't beaten San Jose in this century.
"Everybody was kind of skeptical about the days off that we had, but once we got our legs going, we did pretty well," said Setoguchi, who has 10 points in the past five games. "Everyone has been chipping in since the start of the year, and it takes the pressure off you when every line is scoring."
Brian Boucher stopped 19 shots in his seventh straight start for the Sharks, and Dan Boyle moved into a tie for the overall league scoring lead among defencemen with two assists, giving him 18 points. San Jose leads the NHL in shots per game by a fairly wide margin, but needed just 28 to blow out the Capitals in a meeting of division leaders.
"Obviously they are a well-oiled machine over there, and that's why they're in first place," said Washington's Matt Bradley, a former Sharks forward. "I think they are a very good team, but I think we can play with them when everybody is healthy."
Tom Poti and Tomas Fleischmann scored in the Capitals' third game in four nights in California during a tough five-game road swing. Brent Johnson's goals-against average took a beating, as he made no particularly big stops against the Sharks' three relentless scoring lines.
Washington hadn't been to San Jose in nearly three years, but the Capitals haven't won in the Bay Area since 1993. They've lost 11 straight overall to the Sharks.
Sergei Fedorov returned to the Capitals' lineup for just four minutes after missing seven games with a sprained ankle, but left wing Alexander Semin and defenceman Mike Green are still out with injuries. Washington would have needed everybody to keep up with speedy San Jose on the first anniversary of the Caps' hiring of coach Bruce Boudreau, who has transformed an underachieving club into one of the Eastern Conference's best.
"I thought we made three or four mistakes, and they're the kind of team that when you make mistakes, they'll capitalize on it right away," Boudreau said. "We've been getting away with two or three mistakes a game and it not hurting us, but tonight it really hurt us."
Longtime San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov also was back in uniform as Boucher's backup for the first time since getting hurt Nov. 6 during a shootout against St. Louis. The Sharks have been able to be cautious with their Vezina Trophy finalist because of Boucher, who is 7-1-1 this season with significantly better statistics than Nabokov.
McLellan said Nabokov will start the Sharks' next game against Chicago on Wednesday.
Notes: Grier returned from a two-game absence with a lower-body injury. ... Donald Brashear won a clear decision over Jody Shelley in a first-period fight between NHL heavyweights. ... Bradley is a former Sharks draft pick who spent his first three NHL seasons in San Jose.