Washington, DC-Michal Neuvirth's wizardry in net on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins earned him another start Tuesday night in a showdown with the San Jose Sharks. His shut out streak remained intact for another two-and-a-half periods until he ran into San Jose's star rookie Logan Couture.
Couture scored at the 11:55 mark in the third period to break a scoreless tie against the Capitals and Dan Boyle added an insurance tally 2:52 later to give the Sharks a 2-0 victory and their fourth straight win.
Couture's 24th goal of the season was more than enough to support goalie Antti Niemi's efforts. Niemi stonewalled Washington, making 25 saves as San Jose handed them their eighth shutout of the season.
Not even the return of Alex Semin to Washington's lineup after a 12-game layoff could prevent another shutout. Semin registered a team-high four shots, but overall the entire team appeared to lack the hustle which had led to big wins over Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh in the past week.
"There wasn't a lot of energy on the bench, but at the same time I wanted to pick them up so I didn't want to be really negative with them," said Bruce Boudreau following the loss. "There was not a lot of jump for whatever reason today."
Neuvirth had another strong showing, stopping 34 of 36 shots in defeat. He made a great save on Ben Eager from point blank range in the first among others, but the Sharks brought enough offensive pressure in the third period to break through.
"I felt pretty good. I was confident," Neuvirth said after the game. "I was seeing the puck pretty well. They got a little bit lucky on that first goal. It kind of surprised me."
"In the end, he played good for 51 minutes," added Boudreau. "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 of the variety that should have beaten him, but at the same time I thought he kept us in it for the first period."
The Capitals appeared to score in the first period when Semin's shot from the right circle trickled through the crease and was tapped in by Mathieu Perreault, but the officials had whistled the play dead because they believed Niemi had secured the puck.
"[That] was deflating," said Boudreau. "I mean, obviously it shouldn't have been blown. The referee came up and apologized. Doesn't do us a lot of good, we are a team that plays a lot better with a lead than coming from behind. So it probably would've helped us. But you can't blame that one chance. We didn't get opportunities because we didn't deserve them."
The Capitals have been accused before of taking nights off and tonight was a prime example of the mental lapses that have plagued this team in the past. They played well early, but their efforts tailed off down the stretch, leaving them asleep until it was too late.
"You get your chances against them, but you have got to work," said defenseman Scott Hannan. "They're a big strong team and they're going to play physical and they're going to wear you down and throw lots of shots from cycling it around the net. They're dangerous when they get their opportunities."
The Capitals were without Mike Green as the All-Star missed the game after being hit in the side of the head by a Brooks Orpik slap shot against the Penguins on Sunday. They clearly missed his puck moving skills against the Sharks, but he is expected to return on Saturday in time for a matchup with the Kings.
Despite the loss, Washington remains three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the lead in the Southeast Division standings.