WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nobody in the NHL has more shootout goals this season than injured Sharks forward Logan Couture.
So when it was Patrick Marleau's turn in the spotlight Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals, he used his absent teammate as inspiration for the shot that would give San Jose a 2-1 victory.
"I thought I'd go to what Logan usually does and it's been working for him," said Marleau, who went with the forehand to beat Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer on the stick side. "Tried that one tonight."
The victory came after a closely fought game that saw San Jose continue two very favorable trends. The Sharks are now 17-1 against Washington since the 1999-2000 season and have won seven of their past eight shootouts to improve to 8-5 overall this season.
San Jose got its lone goal in regulation from Tyler Kennedy, his fourth of the season and first since Nov. 23. Alexander Ovechkin scored his NHL-best 33rd of the season for the Capitals to tie the game, but was otherwise frustrated by a Sharks defense that limited him to three shots on net while blocking four others.
Marleau's goal, of course, was only half the drama in the skills competition. At the other end of the ice, goalie Antti Niemi stopped shots by Eric Fehr, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to make Marleau's goal the deciding one.
"He's a big man and he's very patient," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Niemi, who made 35 saves before reaching the shootout. "He takes a lot of the net away. Not overly jumpy in the net, he allows the shooter to make the first move and then he reacts from there."
The game was one of momentum swings. San Jose started out slowly and was being outshot 7-1 before getting any traction in the offensive zone, then held Washington without a shot for more than ten minutes.
The Sharks took a 1-0 lead at 13:30 of the first period when Jason Demers found Kennedy unchecked in the slot for a redirect that Grubauer had no chance to stop.
"That felt really good," Kennedy said of the goal that ended an 18-game personal drought. "Obviously it gets to you a little bit and it's always nice to get one. But I don't always judge my game on points. I judge it on effort and helping the team win."
The Sharks were doing a good job of containing Ovechkin, holding him without a shot for more than half the game. But at 12:41 of the second period, Ovechkin's first shot was a perfect one that sailed over Niemi's shoulder from a harsh angle along the left sideboards.
The Sharks came within one-tenth of a second of taking a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, but a video review showed that Brad Stuart's tap-in crossed the line just after time ran out.
The teams continued to battle evenly into the third period with Niemi coming up with his biggest save of the night at 10:09 when he robbed Caps forward Eric Fehr who had brought the puck around from behind the net for an uncontested shot.
Twenty seconds later, it was Grubauer coming up big as both Marleau and Tommy Wingels had scoring chances from up close.
Before the game, McLellan noted that he wanted his players to stay out of the penalty box because Washington had one of the NHL's top power plays. The Sharks did just that until Marleau was sent off at 18:45 of the third period for hooking forward Mikhail Grabovski as he crashed the net.
Ovechkin rifled two shots at Niemi before regulation ended, but the Sharks goalie was able to stop both of them, sending the game to overtime.
Niemi recognized the importance of the win.
"It's huge because we have been struggling a little on the road," Niemi said of the Sharks, who are now 13-10-3 away from home as they head south for games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. "So it's a really big thing for us."
Sharks (29-12-6) at Florida (18-21-7), 4:30 p.m. CSNCA
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