October 15 vs. San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage Live Pre-Game video show at 5:45 p.m., both on www.washingtoncaps.com
San Jose Sharks (3-2-1)
Washington Capitals (2-2-2)
Washington entertains the San Jose Sharks on Thursday at Verizon Center in the middle match of a three-game homestand. It is the first of two meetings between the two clubs this season. The Capitals close the calendar 2009 portion of the 2009-10 slate with the Sharks in San Jose on Dec. 30.
The Capitals spent the first half dozen games of the season alternating between home and road tilts. Three one-game road trips were interspersed with a pair of one-game homestands. The Caps returned from Saturday night’s 3-2 loss in Detroit for a lengthy home stay, even though Washington will only play three home games during this 11-day stay in the District.
Monday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils marked the Caps’ fourth straight game without a win (0-2-2), matching the team’s longest such streak during the 149-game administration of Bruce Boudreau. But you won’t find much gnashing of the teeth or white knuckling going on over the team’s current state.
The Caps know they’ve got areas of their game that need work. They also know that it’s Oct. 15.
“I think mental mistakes is all [that ails us],” says Caps forward Brooks Laich, “and that encompasses everything. That’s taking ill-timed penalties and turnovers. We’re a better hockey team than what we’ve showed. We just have to make sure that the focus is better. We’ve talked about it, but we care more about results around here, not intentions.”
With two days to prepare for the Sharks’ invasion, the Caps spent Wednesday’s practice working on special teams. Coach Bruce Boudreau also skated his charges hard.
While there are some areas of Washington’s game that are in need of shoring up, goaltending is not one of them. Jose Theodore is likely to make his fourth straight start on Thursday against the Sharks, and he has been solid all season. Replaced by rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov after just one game of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the 33-year-old Theodore is determined to show he’s got some good years left.
“I came here with a purpose,” he says. “The best way to do the talking is on the ice. I play hard right now and I am seeing the puck well. But I’ve got to say that it’s all about having confidence. And right now I feel really good about where my game is.
“I feel like when I feel good I can be one of the top goalies in this league. I am working hard with [goaltending coach Arturs Irbe]. I have had some good stretches, but it’s the best I have felt since before the lockout.”
Boudreau changed up his forward lines before Monday’s loss to the Devils, putting right wing Mike Knuble with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin set up Knuble for the Caps’ second goal of the night, but the other scoring line of Brendan Morrison between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin did not fare as well. They were on the ice for both New Jersey goals.
“They were good,” said Morrison of the first line. “We weren’t that good. I think it’s going to be a bit of an interchange all year long depending on who’s going well. Which can be good. It can give you different looks. But really it’s hockey and you just go out and play. Some guys mesh better with other guys. It would be nice to mesh as quick as possible with guys.”
It’s possible that Morrison will now get a chance to mesh quickly with Ovechkin. At practice the last couple of days, he has been centering for Ovechkin and Knuble.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Morrison of the philosophy of playing with Ovi. “Get him the puck. That’s option 1-A.
“The thing about him is he can make something out of nothing. Knubs has had a chance to play a couple of preseason games with him, and even [Monday] night. You’ve got to expect something to happen. He always makes something happen. Get him the puck when he’s in stride; you know he’s going to be a shooter. Try and maybe push the defense back by using speed and creating some gap that way, maybe give him a little bit more time because he obviously has a lot of focus on him. Just try to complement him.”
In the Sharks, Washington will be facing its sixth 2009 playoff team in its first seven opponents this season. But in last season’s franchise-record setting 108-point season, Washington was only 3-3-1 against lesser foes through the campaign’s first seven games. Its first seven opponents of 2009-10 averaged 104 points last season, and the Caps can improve upon last year’s mark through seven with a win over San Jose.
“The graph is going up, it’s not going down,” says Boudreau. “It’s not getting any easier, but at the same time – including preseason – we haven’t lost a game by more than a goal. We’re there all the time. It’s like the difference between a rut and a groove. Right now, we’re in a little bit of a rut. That can change in a hurry and if it becomes a groove, we’ll win five or six or seven in a row.”
For the Sharks, Thursday’s game is the first of a six-game road trip against Eastern Conference opponents. San Jose played exclusively against its fellow Western Conference denizens in the season’s first six games.
Like the Capitals, San Jose features one of the deadliest forward lines in the league. The trio of Joe Thornton between Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley has accounted for 10 goals in the Sharks’ first half-dozen games. Beyond that unit, the Sharks have veteran Patrick Marleau (a career best 38 goals last season) and big Ryane Clowe (22 goals in 2008-09), though they are missing second-unit pivot Joe Pavelski. Pavelski is currently sidelined with a lower body injury.
Marleau has five goals this season while Clowe has yet to record a point.
The Sharks have points in each of their last three games, having gone 2-0-1 on a recently completed three-game homestand. Most recently, San Jose absorbed a 1-0 shootout setback at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night.
The Capitals are winless in their last 11 games (0-10-1) against San Jose. Washington’s last win over the Sharks was a 3-1 triumph in the District on Feb. 20, 1999. Sergei Gonchar scored twice and James Black added an empty-netter to salt away the win. San Jose has outscored Washington by a combined 41-21 in the 11 games since.
When a reporter suggested the Sharks might not be an ideal opponent for a team that is winless in its last four games, Laich begged to differ.
“I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to see them,” he declares. “I don’t agree with that. It’s a good test for us. You want to play the best teams because you want to be the best. You want people to talk about you saying you are the best. We haven’t proved it lately, but a good statement game for us having lost four in a row is to play against a very good team like the San Jose Sharks, a team that maybe the media has higher expectation for than even our club.
“So it’s a good test for us and we’re excited for the challenge.”