December 30 vs. San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 4 p.m. Eastern time on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (24-9-6)
San Jose Sharks (24-8-7)
The Caps close out calendar 2009 with a Wednesday night date with the San Jose Sharks at the Shark Tank, long a hostile environment for those sporting Capitals sweaters. Washington will be looking to salvage a win here for the first time since early in the previous decade.
The Capitals and Sharks met earlier this season with Washington taking a 4-1 decision over visiting San Jose at Verizon Center on Oct. 15. Jose Theodore started that game in goal for Washington but left with an injury after the first period. Rookie netminder Semyon Varlamov came on in relief and earned the victory for the Caps.
The Capitals finished up a three-game homestand with a 6-3 setback at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center on Monday night. That loss ended a three-game winning streak, a five-game home ice winning streak and an eight-game winning run against Southeast Division opponents to start the 2009-10 season.
Washington started the homestand with impressive wins over Northeast Division-leading Buffalo and Atlantic Division-frontrunner New Jersey to vault itself into the top spot in the league standings a day after Christmas. The Caps then surprised some by dealing captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus in exchange for left wing Jason Chimera.
That trade, announced hours prior to Monday’s game with the Hurricanes, necessitated some line juggling for Washington.
“It forces you into making moves,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of needing to shuffle the lineup. “And we’ll try to find a good spot for [Chimera]. Knowing me, it’s a trial and error thing. We’ll put him some place and if it doesn’t work after one period, we’ll put him some place else. But he’s going to play, and we’re looking for big things from him.”
Chimera is a swift-skating, 30-year-old winger from Edmonton who has played mostly a checking line role throughout his nine seasons in the NHL. Boudreau had Chimera skating the left side of a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin.
“When you first get in [to the league],” says Chimera, when asked to describe his game and his style of play, “you are one of those guys who is an energy guy. I fought quite a bit the first couple of years I played. You’ve got to get yourself in the lineup and do what it takes.
“I am still an energy kind of guy. I play with a lot of speed, up-tempo, and I am a good forechecker. I think I can score some goals, too, when called upon. I can hopefully bring that here. It’s a great opportunity with a great team. It’s kind of a new lease on life for me; it’s great.”
The Capitals, normally a dominant first-period team, came out flat against Carolina and fell into a 3-0 hole while mustering just four shots on in the first period. The Caps tried to claw their way back into the contest, but were ultimately unable to do so.
Washington traveled all through Monday night and early Tuesday morning to get to San Jose for Wednesday’s game. The Caps practiced on Tuesday afternoon at the Shark Tank.
The loss to Carolina marked the first time all season that the Caps did not earn at least a point in their first game of the week.
“You want to win the first one of the week because then you’re on a bit of a roll going into the next one,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “Now we have a good test ahead of us. Something we don’t want to do around here is lose two in a row. That’s something we always talk about is we never lose two games in a row.
“Now we go to San Jose to play against a very good hockey team that beat us 7-2 last time we played in that building. That’s not an easy place to play. And we beat them in our building, so they’re going to want some redemption. It’s going to be a challenge. The travel, everything else. It’s going to be a challenge for this hockey team.”
The Caps will face a couple of the better teams (San Jose and Los Angeles) in the Western Conference with a retooled lineup. Chimera, who has two goals in as many games against the Sharks this season, will make his Washington debut after having just one practice and one morning skate with his new teammates.
“Hockey systems don’t deviate too much,” says Boudreau, “but our neutral zone is a little bit different than most teams. That’s probably where it’s going to be an ‘over time’ thing. Heck, we practiced it [Wednesday] and there were guys I’ve been with for five years who weren’t doing it right. It’s a tough thing, but when it’s done right it works real well.”
Washington’s last win in San Jose was a 4-2 triumph on Oct. 30, 1993.
Arturs Irbe, now the Capitals’ goalie coach, was in net for the Sharks on that night more than 16 years ago. Washington is 0-8-1 in its nine visits to the Tank since. The Sharks have outscored the Caps by a combined 33-17 in those nine games.
Craig Berube, Peter Bondra, Keith Jones and Mike Ridley were the goal scorers for Washington that night. Rick Tabaracci made 25 saves to earn the win for the Caps.
Several of the participants in that game – including San Jose’s Rob Zettler, Mike Sullivan and Irbe and Washington’s Steve Konowalchuk and Berube – are now coaching in the NHL. Alan May, who suited up with Washington that night, now does television analysis for Comcast SportsNet. Of all the players dressed for both teams in that game, only Ray Whitney (now with Carolina) is still active in the league. Whitney was in his third season in the league in 1993-94.
Washington and San Jose are separated by 2,846 miles geographically but only one point separates the Sharks (55 points) and the Capitals (54) in the NHL standings.
After muddling through a 0-3-2 stretch in early December, San Jose is riding a five-game winning streak. The Sharks have not gone consecutive games without earning a point this season. They are 11-2-5 on home ice in 2009-10.
The Sharks have outscored their opponents by a combined 18-9 during the life of their current winning streak. Evgeni Nabokov has started each of those five games in goal for San Jose.
Most recently, the Sharks earned a 3-2 shootout victory over division rival Phoenix on home ice Monday night.
The Caps lead the NHL with 139 goals scored this season, but San Jose ranks second with 126. Nearly half of the Sharks goals have come from the dominant trio of Patrick Marleau (25 goals), Dany Heatley (23) and Joe Thornton (10).
San Jose’s power play is just 5-for-40 (12.5%) during the month of December.
Notes: Laich has been credited with Washington’s third goal of Monday’s 6-3 loss to the Canes. The tally was originally credited to Alex Ovechkin. Jurcina was named to Team Slovakia’s roster for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.