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PRO HOCKEY: Ice-cold Capitals fall short at home

WASHINGTON—The Washington Capitals took one of the NHL’s best teams down to the wire Tuesday night at Verizon Center, but it was little consolation in yet another gut-wrenching shootout loss.

Despite battling the San Jose Sharks to the very end, the Caps fell 2–1 in a shootout that gives them consecutive home losses heading into their toughest road swing to date.

“It’s important to get the two points [for the win], right? But we played a great game,” said rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who saved 28 shots in his 12th start in the last 17 games. “In their zone, we had the puck a lot of times, and that feels pretty good.”

The Caps outshot the Sharks 36–29 but managed only Alex Ovechkin’s tally in the second period that knotted the score 1–1.

The teams played through a scoreless third period and overtime before Patrick Marleau gave San Jose the lead with a shootout goal.

Washington failed to score in any of its three shootout opportunities. Sharks goalie Antii Niemi saved the first shot by Eric Fehr, and then Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both missed the goal completely with their attempts.

The Caps have now lost five straight games in overtime or shootouts.

“We trust our system,” Grubauer said. “We just need to score.”

The Caps lost back-to-back games at home for the fourth time this season. They have lost nine of their last 13, but they were much improved from their home shootout loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

“We had chances to win the game,” Ovechkin said. “I think we controlled the game in the offensive zone.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Capitals (22–17–7), who play eight of their next nine games on the road starting tonight at the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.

Their only home game in the next 18 days comes against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 21.

Washington, which entered the game alone in second place in the tight Metropolitan Division standings, ended the day tied for second with the Philadelphia Flyers, who pulled out a 4–3 comeback win over the Sabres on Tuesday.

The Caps, who lead the NHL with 40 power-play goals, didn’t have many opportunities with a man advantage.

They drew their first power play with 1:15 left in regulation when Marleau was called for hooking for pulling down center Mikhail Grabovski. That ended up being Washington’s only power play of the game.

The Capitals were aggressive on both ends of the ice throughout the second and third periods, but they had little to show for it. They tied the score 1–1 with a goal from Ovechkin with 7:16 remaining in the second.

Ovechkin powered a shot from the left wing that sneaked up the right shoulder of Niemi and into the top shelf of the goal.

“I just shoot the puck and it goes in,” Ovechkin said.

Karl Alzner and Mikhail Grabovski were both credited with assists on the goal, which was the NHL-leading 33rd of the season for Ovechkin.

The inconsistencies that plagued the Capitals in their home loss to the Sabres on Sunday popped up again in the first period.

They were aggressive in their attacking zone and had an early 7–1 shot on goal advantage, but the Sharks regrouped and peppered the rookie Grubauer with a flurry of shots.

San Jose, the highest-scoring first-period team in the NHL, added to that tally with a goal off a deflection by center Tyler Kennedy with 6:30 to go before intermission. Jason Demers and Andrew Desjardins were both credited with assists.

The Caps went cold in the latter part of the period, going more than 10 minutes without a shot on goal.

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442