February 13 vs. San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 pm TV: NBCSN Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Pre-Cap at 2 p.m., Two-Man Advantage at 5:00 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 5:00 p.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
San Jose Sharks (30-17-6)
Washington Capitals (28-22-5)
Five weeks after absorbing a 5-2 loss to the Sharks in San Jose, the Caps will host the Sharks at Verizon Center. The game is the second in as many days for both clubs. The Caps are coming off a 3-2 loss to the Rangers in New York on Sunday afternoon while San Jose spent Sunday in St. Louis, where they found themselves on the short end of a 3-0 whitewash courtesy of Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Sunday’s game in New York started a road-heavy stretch of hockey for the Capitals, who will play five of six away from Verizon Center starting with Sunday’s visit to the Big Apple. With the way the Caps are struggling mightily on the road this season (9-15-3), Washington has to take full advantage of its 13 remaining home dates.
The Capitals are 19-7-2 on the Verizon Center sheet this season, but they were just 1-1-1 in a three-game homestand last week.
Washington has squandered some solid efforts of late. The Caps played a great game on Thursday at the Phone Booth against the Jets, nursing a 2-0 lead into the final three minutes of regulation. But the combination of penalty trouble, a freak bounce and a shootout combined to put the Caps on the short end of a 3-2 decision decided by the skills competition.
The Caps hung with the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers on Sunday but ultimately fell 3-2. Washington fired more shots in the direction of the New York net than they had fired against them in Sunday’s game, the first time they could make that claim in a span of 21 games. The Caps had little in the way of puck luck; they hit the post three times against the Rangers, and New York blocked 25 Washington shots, matching the most the Caps have had blocked in a single game this season.
“We just needed a little more finish around the net,” said Caps center Jeff Halpern after the loss.
Monday’s game against the Sharks is also the back end of a set of back-to-back contests for the Capitals. Washington had just two sets of back-to-back games over a span of 65 days from late November to late January. The Capitals are now in the midst of a stretch in which they must play on back-to-back nights five times in a span of just 26 days. This is the third of those five sets of games on consecutive dates.
Later this week, Washington departs for a four-game road trip, the team’s longest of the season to date. The Caps will visit Florida on Friday, Tampa Bay on Saturday, Carolina on Monday and Ottawa on Wednesday. That road trip is the centerpiece of a stretch in which Washington will play six times in nine nights, with five of the six games coming on the road.
The Sharks own a three-point lead over Los Angeles for the top spot in the NHL’s Pacific Division. San Jose has played three fewer games than the Kings.
San Jose has been hot since mid-December, going 15-7-3 during since a three-game mini-skid (0-1-2) in the middle of the final month of calendar 2011. The Sharks have piled up 30 or more shots on net in 20 of those 25 games.
The Sharks have been white-hot on special teams in recent games. San Jose has scored at least one power play goal in seven of its last nine games, and it is a torrid 10-for-26 (38.5%) with the extra man during that stretch.
In that same nine-game span, the Sharks have successfully killed off 20 of the 24 shorthanded situations they have faced. San Jose was nicked for a pair of power play goals in Sunday’s loss to the Blues.
On Friday night, the Sharks beat the struggling Blackhawks 5-3 on home ice. The next day, San Jose took to the road for a mammoth nine-game trip in which the Sharks will play three sets of back-to-back games. Sunday’s game in St. Louis is the first stop on that journey. The trip lasts for 16 days; it concludes in Minneapolis on Feb. 26. Two nights later, the Sharks are back in action at the Shark Tank when they host the Philadelphia Flyers.
Heading into the trip, San Jose has played the fewest road games of any team in the league. The Sharks will play nearly a quarter of their road slate for the season on this trip.