SAN JOSE, Calif. — On a road trip where Washington struggled to generate any offence, Nicklas Backstrom’s goal was enough to send the Capitals home on a good note.
Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves for his fifth career shutout and Backstrom broke a scoreless tie late in the second period to help the Capitals salvage the final game of their California swing with a 2-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
"I just thought it was a pretty complete team effort," coach Barry Trotz said. "I would probably say the last seven, eight periods we played pretty well. We just didn’t get the results that we wanted in all three games here."
Washington was outscored 7-1 in losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the trip before a narrow win in San Jose moved the Capitals one point ahead of Pittsburgh for first place in the Metropolitan Division, pending the Penguins’ game in Toronto later.
Alex Ovechkin, two goals short of 600 for Washington, was held scoreless for the third straight game. Marc-Edouard Vlasic thwarted one chance for Ovechkin to get goal No. 599 with a strong back check and goalie Martin Jones robbed Ovechkin on a partial breakaway midway through the third period to keep San Jose’s deficit at 1-0.
Lars Eller’s empty-net goal sealed the win for the Capitals.
The Sharks were unable to get anything past Grubauer and fell to 3-2 on their six-game homestand. San Jose failed on two power-play chances, falling to 1 for 32 with the man advantage over the past 14 games.
"We were one shot away from tying that game or maybe going the other way, but definitely that second period we didn’t have that push that we needed," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said.
Jones made 24 saves for the Sharks but couldn’t stop Backstrom’s one-timer late in the second period after Washington appeared to enter the zone offside.
Brett Connolly found Backstrom alone in the faceoff circle and he beat Jones high to the glove side for his 17th goal of the season. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer didn’t challenge for offside, and the goal stood.
"It wasn’t offside. It wasn’t offside," DeBoer said. "He didn’t touch it before the other (player) came out and tagged out, so it clearly wasn’t offside. That’s why we didn’t call it."
The Sharks controlled play for much of the first period but were unable to turn that into goals as Timo Meier hit the post during a power play on San Jose’s best opportunity. Tomas Hertl also hit the post on the power play in the second period as San Jose failed to take advantage of two penalties by Tom Wilson.
"It could have gone the other way today," Grubauer said. "They had four or five posts. It could have gone a different way, too. Lucky and blessed to get the two points."
The Capitals took over in the second, outshooting the Sharks 12-3. That heavy pressure finally paid off late in the period with Backstrom’s goal that was Washington’s second on the trip.
"It’s hard to be satisfied with your game when you’re not scoring or winning," Backstrom said. "That’s something we all are as a hockey player. We want to win and that’s what counts. We weren’t happy with our situation. But obviously it’s nice we turned it around tonight and got two points. That’s huge."
NOTES: The Capitals had not won in regulation at San Jose since their first trip to the Shark Tank on Oct. 30, 1993, when they won 4-2. Washington had 13 losses, one tie, one overtime win and one shootout win since then. … The Capitals are 24-3-3 when scoring first.
Capitals: Host the Winnipeg Jets on Monday.
Sharks: Host the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.