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The Washington Capitals host the San Jose Sharks for the first meeting of the season between the two teams on Tuesday night. The Capitals swept both games against the Sharks last year, including a 4-1 win at Capital One Arena on December 4, 2017. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM.
After winning seven consecutive games and going 16-3-2 in a 21-game stretch, the Sharks enter Tuesday night on the heels of three consecutive losses, falling 6-3 at the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday, 6-3 at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, and 6-2 at the Florida Panthers on Monday. They play the second of a back-to-back set and conclude a four-game road trip on Tuesday against the Capitals.
After falling in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, San Jose didn’t make a lot of acquisitions over the summer, but did land the biggest fish out there, defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. Along with Karlsson, who can become the most coveted unrestricted free agent July 1, they brought along with him forward prospect Francis Perron and sent center Chris Tierney, forward prospect Rudolfs Balcers, defenseman Dylan DeMelo, forward prospect Josh Norris, a 2019 or 2020 first-round pick, a 2019 second-round pick, and two conditional draft picks to Ottawa.
After a slow start in San Jose, Karlsson, 28, went on a 14-game assist-streak (one goal, 25 points) and entered Monday third amongst all NHL defensemen with 40 assists and fifth with 43 points in 47 games. He will miss his third consecutive game against the Capitals on Tuesday due to a lower-body injury.
The team also re-signed center Joe Thornton, who has posted 10 goals, 24 points, and a +3 rating in 42 games this season, to a one-year deal and forward Evander Kane, who’s tallied 19 goals, 40 points, and a +2 rating in 51 games this year, to a seven-year contract after getting acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline last season.
San Jose is currently second in the Pacific Division and is six points behind the Calgary Flames for first. While they boast an impressive 17-4-4 record at home, they are just 11-12-3 on the road this season. They entered Monday with anaverage 3.56 goals-per-game, which is third in the NHL behind the Lightning (4) and the Flames (3.74). San Jose’s average of 34.4 shots-per-game heading into Monday’s game against Florida was the second-most in the NHL behind the Carolina Hurricanes’ average of 35.8 while their average of 28.3 shots-against per game is the second-fewest behind the Hurricanes’ average of 28.
Defenseman Brent Burns leads his team and all NHL defensemen with 44 assists and 53 points. Center Joe Pavelski leads San Jose with 26 goals in 50 games this season.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has missed the past eight games due to a lower-body injury and was placed on injured reserve by San Jose on Sunday. In a corresponding move, they recalled defenseman Mirco Mueller from the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda.
Goaltender Martin Jones, who entered Monday with a record of 22-9-4 with a save percentage of .899, a goals-against average of 2.82, and one shutout this season, made 16 saves in the 22 shots he faced against the Panthers on Monday. Backup goaltender Aaron Dell, who is 6-6-3 with a save percentage of .891 and a goals-against average of 3.09 and two shutouts this season, will likely start against the Capitals for the first time in his career on Tuesday night. He played the final 12:38 against the Panthers on Monday, making. eight stops on nine shots. However, it is possible Jones can start. In his career against Washington, Jones is 4-2-0 with a save percentage of .944, a goals-against average of 1.51, and two shutouts, all career-bests against a single franchise other than San Jose.
The Capitals look to end a season-high five-game losing streak, which is also their longest since November 2014, which was head coach Barry Trotz’s first month on the job. During the streak, the team has been outscored by a total of 23-9 and only four of those nine goals have come from forwards. After the team’s 8-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, the team held a “players only” meeting and held another meeting with the coaches prior to Monday’s practice. The skid has caused the team to fall to third place in the Metropolitan Division, though they are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets with 59 points and three points behind New York Islanders for first. The Blue Jackets are off until after the NHL’s All-Star Break.
Captain Alex Ovechkin leads the league with 33 goals and the Capitals with 52 points but has no points over his past two games. After a 14-game point-streak, the 33-year old has just four goals and nine points in 16 games since. He recorded a point in four consecutive outings (three goals, five points) before getting held off of the scoresheet the past two games. Defenseman John Carlson leads the Capitals with 37 assists.
Many of the Capitals’ top scorers have gone through prolonged scoring droughts as of late. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov has one goal, seven points, and a -1 rating in his past 16 games and only has two even-strength goals all season; forward T.J. Oshie has tallied four goals, eight points, and a +1 rating in his past 18 games, though he posted two assists against the Blackhawks; forward Jakub Vrana has one assist and a -6 rating in his past five games after posting three goals and four points in two games before that; and forward Tom Wilson has gone scoreless and has a -6 rating in his last four games. Despite the scoring drought, the Capitals still rank eighth in the NHL with an average of 3.31 goals-per-game.
The Capitals are 9-10-2 against Western Conference teams, including 1-7-1 in their past nine games since letting a 5-1 lead in the second period slip away and going on to lose 6-5 in regulation to the Anaheim Ducks on December 2. While they have not been good against the West this season, they are 5-4-0 against teams from the Pacific Division, including 2-2-0 on home ice. In total, the Capitals have been outscored 75-60 in games against Western Conference opponents.
Before their mandated bye-week, the Capitals begin a set of back-to-back games against the Sharks on Tuesday. After hosting the Sharks, the team goes up to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs. The team is 9-5-2 on back-to-backs, including an impressive 6-2-0 record on the first game of such situations.
It is unknown who the Capitals will go with in goal against the Sharks on Tuesday. Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 17-11-2 with a save percentage of .909, a goals-against average of 2.92, and two shutouts this season, is most likely to start but the 29-year old is 2-4-0 with a save percentage of .875 and a goals-against average of 3.74 in his career against San Jose. Goaltender Pheonix Copley, who is 10-5-3 with a save percentage of .903, a goals-against of 2.98, and a shutout in his rookie season in the NHL, has never started against the Sharks in his career.
The Capitals rank 11th in the NHL with an efficiency of 21% on the power-play while they are currently 23rd with a penalty-killing rate of 78.1%.
The Sharks entered Monday’s game at the Panthers ranking seventh in each category with an efficiency of 24.6% on the power-play and own a penalty-killing rate of 83.2%.
-Over the last two seasons, Carlson has 30 multi-point games, tied for the second most among defensemen in the NHL (Burns: 32; Karlsson: 30)
-The Capitals’ 26 goals by defensemen are the sixth most in the NHL (Ottawa Senators: 32; Minnesota Wild: 30; Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars: 28; Montreal Canadiens: 27); all of the team’s five goals in their 8-5 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday came from defensemen
-Over the last 15 games and since December 21 in a 2-1 win vs. the Buffalo Sabres, the Capitals have killed off 41 of their 48 penalties (85.4%), tied for the seventh-best penalty kill rate in the NHL during that span
A Look Back In Time
Forward Devante Smith-Pelly tipped in defenseman John Carlson‘s point shot in front of Jones to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead with 3:11 left in the first period. After Ovechkin picked a pass off from Burns, he went to the races and beat Jones to the blocker side on a breakaway to make it 2-0. After Sharks forward Timo Meier cut the Capitals’ lead in half, forward Brett Connolly finished a beautiful passing play by going to the roof on the backhand with 52 seconds left in the second period to restore the two-goal lead for the Capitals. Vrana finished a scramble in front of the net on a third-chance opportunity to make it 4-1 with 8:24 left. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves in the win, the Capitals’ first in regulation over San Jose since 2009.
By Harrison Brown