Caps Take Aim on Sharks
Monday, 02.07.2011 / 2:23 PM
Mike Vogel - WashingtonCaps.com Senior WriterFebruary 8 vs. San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center
820AM, 1500AM and XM
Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
San Jose Sharks (28-19-6)
Washington Capitals (29-15-10)
Washington continues its three-game homestand on Tuesday when the San Jose Sharks hit town for the first of five straight games against Western Conference opponents. For the third straight game, the Caps find themselves trying to slow down one of the league’s hottest teams. Washington will also be trying to extend its own modest winning streak to three games for the first time since Dec. 26-Jan. 1.
The Capitals are coming into Tuesday’s game off two straight solid 60-minute performances, both of which resulted in convincing wins over strong conference foes.
“I think all around there’s been better commitment,” says Caps center Boyd Gordon
. “Everyone bought in. I think when we do that we’re a hard team to beat. We did have more of the puck and didn’t really give up too much. We’ve been playing well defensively but hopefully our game is starting to round into form here. It’s another tough test [Tuesday] against a really good team, so hopefully we can keep it going.”
On Friday night in Tampa, the Caps ended the Lightning’s six-game winning streak with a 5-2 win over their hosts in a four-point Southeast Division game. On Sunday at Verizon Center, Washington halted the Penguins’ winning run at five with a 3-0 shutout, the first by a Caps’ goalie against Pittsburgh in nearly two decades. That victory enabled the Caps to pick up a pair of points on the Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings.
Although the Caps have collected at least a point in 18 of their last 22 games, they’ve won only half (11-4-7) of those contests. Washington is 5-1-3 in its last nine games, and the steady stream of points coming in has kept the Caps within striking distance of the teams ahead of them in both their division and the conference.
Nearly three months removed from their season-high six-game winning streak, the Caps are aiming to put together a winning run as they tread through a tough stretch of schedule in the season’s shortest month.
“It’s so close,” says Gordon of the tightly packed Eastern Conference standings. “You go on a little bit of a skid or you get on a streak and it can go either way. We want to get on a nice little hot streak here and put ourselves in a good position.”
It was easy for the Caps to get up for the Friday game against a division rival and the Sunday tilt against their most heated rival. Although no such rivalry exists with Washington and San Jose, the Capitals don’t expect to have any problems getting up for the Sharks.
“The spark is where you’re going to finish in the standings,” says Washington right wing Mike Knuble
. “We’ve got to make some ground up and catch some teams. We still have a chance to catch Tampa so we want to do it. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we want to improve on what we’ve been doing and play better and keep the good momentum going.
“We don’t see [the Sharks] very often, but they’re a very good team in the west and it’s always a good challenge.”
Washington has been stingy defensively for the better part of the last two months, allowing just 39 goals in their past 22 games for a 1.71 GAA and a .942 save pct. during that span.
Three different Washington goalies have combined to allow just eight goals in the team’s last seven games for a 1.12 GAA and a .960 save pct. through that run.
In the last two games, the Caps’ offense has showed signs of emerging from its extended hibernation. The Capitals have now scored a goal in six straight periods of hockey, something they hadn’t achieved since Nov. 24-28 when they did so in seven straight frames.
“I think our old [identity] was scoring and hoping that you can defend,” says Knuble. “And now it’s scoring and knowing we can defend. If you can’t score and you don’t have the horses, then you’re in trouble. But we have the guys who can score and we just weren’t doing it. You know it’s there; it’s just a question of executing and getting it done.
“When we combine the both, we’re pretty good. We haven’t done that a ton this year, but we know it’s there and we know we’re [headed] in the right direction here. We expect to continue it [Tuesday].
San Jose is 7-0-1 in its last eight games, and the Sharks have played five of those contests on the road. The Sharks are 15-9-3 on the road this season. Prior to the team’s current streak in which it has collected 15 of a possible 16 points, the Sharks endured a six-game losing skid in which they scored a mere eight goals and lost five of the six contests on home ice.
The Sharks currently reside in second place in the NHL’s Pacific Division, three points shy of the front-running Dallas Stars. San Jose is fifth in the tightly bunched Western Conference standings where only 10 points separate the dozen teams ranked from third to 14th place in the conference.
San Jose hits town fresh from a 2-0 win over the Bruins in Boston on Saturday. Tuesday’s tilt with the Caps is the third game of a seven-game road trip – the Sharks’ longest of the season – that spans 14 days. When the Sharks finally return to home ice on Feb. 17, they’ll host the Capitals. Washington will be playing the middle match of its own five-game road trip in that one.
Washington’s second-ranked penalty killing outfit has killed 35 of its last 37 (94.6%) missions, but figures to have its hands full with San Jose’s fourth-ranked power play corps. The Sharks are clicking at a 23.1% rate with the extra man on the season. They’ve scored at least one power play goal in their last nine games, going 9-for-28 (32.1%) during that span.
Thanks to Carter Myers for the primary assist on some stats and notes.