OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 02: Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates a goal against the Ottawa Senators in a game at Scotiabank Place on December 2, 2010 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
If there's one constant about the Capitals this season, it's that they're inconsistent.
They can get string together two wins against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, and then go back on home ice a few days later and give a performance like they did in Tuesday's 2-0 loss to San Jose.
From the offense to the defense to the goaltending, you just never know what you're going to get from one period to another. And that's something the organization is trying to rectify before the playoffs arrive.
The Caps started Tuesday's game by sticking with the game plan, dumping and chasing the puck and working the corners to get scoring chances. But about halfway through the second period, that game plan fell apart, and San Jose started to take over.
While the offense struggled, goaltender Michael Neuvirth did his best to keep the Caps in the game, turning away all 27 shots he faced through two periods. But that "consistency" word reared its ugly head in the third, as Neuvy failed to stop two Sharks shots that his coach, well, thought he should have stopped.
Add it all up, and you get this kind of result -- a whitewashing at the hands of one of the hottest teams in the league.
"There was not a lot of jump for whatever reason today," Boudreau said. "We didn't seem to want to shoot until we got behind 2-0."
The Sharks got that 2-0 lead late in the third on goals by Logan Couture and Dan Boyle less than three minutes apart.
The first was set up by a nice backhand pass into the Caps' zone by Ben Eager as he straddled the blue line along the left-wing boards. His soft flip found Couture as he darted past the Washington defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. Neuvirth said Couture's wrist shot from the circle "surprised" him. Couture's shot beat Neuvirth five-hole for the 1-0 lead.
A few minutes later, the Sharks were at it again, circling down low and keeping the pressure on the Caps in their own end. The Caps had several chances to clear the zone but failed to do so. Eventually Dany Heatley got a puck behind the net and fed Dan Boyle, who snuck in from the point and fired a shot from the circle short side past Neuvirth to make it 2-0.
The Caps' top line of Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Jason Chimera was on the ice for both goals. So was the pairing of Alzner-Carlson.
"That's a big line out there (the Joe Thornton line), and they cycle the puck well and extend plays," Caps' defenseman Scott Hannan said. "Sometimes they lull you from behind the net. You think it's not a dangerous position and then someone sneaks in. They're good at making those passes."
At that point the Caps knew they were in trouble.
"They kind of sealed it there," Hannan said. "It was a tough goal to eat, especially after they get that quick one we wanted to come back with some energy and it didn't happen."
The Caps managed to heave 25 shots on Sharks goalie Antti Niemi on the evening, but only had 13 through the first two periods. They recorded just four in the second. Coach Bruce Boudreau knows why.
"They decided to get cute because they had a little bit of success, and if you don't stick with the game plan, bad things usually happen," Boudreau said.
"We didn't get opportunities because we didn't deserve opportunities," he continued.
Despite the lackluster performance, the Caps did manage several quality opportunities, including a nullified goal in the first period that was an omen of bad things to come.
Alex Semin, in his first game back after an injury, sent a bad-angle shot on net, and it trickled through Niemi and came to rest just before the goal line. And by rest, we mean you could have taken a Saturday afternoon nap by the time Matthieu Perreault skated into the crease and poked it home. There was a referee standing behind the net watching the action, but apparently the ref on the far side of the ice had blown the play dead, much to the dismay of the Verizon Center faithful.
The Caps' best chance of the second period belonged to Dave Steckel, who found himself alone with Niemi with 1:30 left in the frame. Steckel knocked a Jason Demers pass out of the air and skated in on Niemi. He got Niemi to bite on a deke, but fanned on his shot. It was that kind of night for the men in red.
Neuvirth finished the game with 34 saves and, through at least two periods and part of the third, he looked to be on his angles, kicking shots to the corners to minimize rebounds. He said the Sharks got "lucky" on their first goal. His coach, however, saw it differently
"In the end, he played good for 51 minutes," Boudreau said. "But if you want to be a great goalie in this league, when the game is on the line, you have to be the one to stop those. I thought those goals were not the variety that should have beaten him. But at the same time, I thought he kept us in for the first period."
Once again, it sounds like Boudreau is looking for some consistency.