The Washington Capitals take on the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night in the second and final meeting of the season between the two teams. The Sharks won an overtime thriller by a score of 7-6, a game which featured dueling hat tricks from Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, at Capital One Arena just over three weeks ago. Action from SAP Center can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 10:30 PM Eastern.
The Capitals continue a season-long six-game road trip on Thursday night. They opened it with a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday in an absolutely sluggish performance in which they only generated 20 shots on goal, a number that was inflated by a final push in the game’s final five minutes, though it is important to note that it was the second of a set of back-to-back games. The team begins their California portion of the trip, which they’ve gone 2-6-1 over the last three visits to the Golden State, though their lone win on the trip last season was a 2-0 win in San Jose.
The Capitals have dropped each of their past three road games and have allowed at least six goals in each of those contests, getting outscored 21-10, an average of seven goals-against per game in that span. Their last road win came on January 10, a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins, though they were badly outplayed in that game. The team is 14-10-2 on the road this season.
Ovechkin leads the league with 38 goals and the Capitals with 64 points this season. Prior to getting shut down in the shutout loss to Columbus, the forward was on a four-game point streak, where he posted a goal and seven points in that span, and has points in six of his last seven games (five goals, 12 points) including a three-point night in the Capitals’ 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. Defenseman John Carlson leads the Capitals with 41 assists this season.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov has started to heat up as of late as he has posted seven points and 15 points in his last nine games before getting held off the scoresheet against the Blue Jackets. He also had points in four consecutive games (five goals, 10 points) before Tuesday night. The 26-year old is now up to 15 goals, 53 points, and a +4 rating in 51 games this season despite going through a dry spell for around a month’s time in December. Kuznetsov posted a goal and two points against San Jose on January 22.
The Capitals enter Thursday ranked seventh in the NHL with an average of 3.32 goals-per-game. They can pull a point within the New York Islanders, who visit the Blue Jackets on Thursday, with a win and an Islanders loss.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 19-14-4 with a save percentage of .907, a goals-against average of 3.04, and two shutouts this season, will likely start against the Sharks on Thursday. He was arguably the biggest reason the Capitals only lost 3-0 against the Blue Jackets, keeping the team in the game even though they were badly outshot 24-7 in the first two periods of the game. Overall, Holtby made 29 saves against the Blue Jackets. He stopped 36 shots in the Capitals’ 7-6 overtime loss to the Sharks a few weeks ago. Lifetime against San Jose, the 29-year old netminder is 2-4-1 with a save percentage of .868 and a goals-against average of 4.18.
The red hot Sharks enter Thursday night’s tilt with a six-game winning streak that powered them to a one-point advantage over the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific Division with 75 points, which is also tied for the second-most in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (88). The team swept their recent four-game Western Canadian road trip while outscoring their opponents by a grand total of 20-8.
The Sharks open a three-game homestand against the Capitals on Thursday night. Following the homestand, they will head out East for four consecutive games. This season, San Jose boasts an 18-4-4 record at SAP Center, a building that has not been kind to the Capitals over the years. They are the only team in the NHL with fewer than five regulation losses at home. The Sharks have won seven straight are 7-0-2 in their last nine games at the Shark Tank. Their last regulation setback at home came on December 20, a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
San Jose could get defenseman Erik Karlsson back in the lineup on Thursday. He has missed the past eight games, including the 7-6 win over the Capitals a few weeks ago, with a groin injury. The team will see how the 28-year old defenseman is in the morning and then decide on his status against the Capitals. In 47 games this season, Karlsson, who can become the most coveted unrestricted free agent on July 1 if he doesn’t sign a contract extension in San Jose until then, has three goals, 43 points, and a +5 rating. After a slow start in San Jose, Karlsson, 28, went on a 14-game assist-streak (one goal, 25 points) that ended just a few games prior to when he suffered his injury.
Defenseman Brent Burns ranks third in the NHL with 52 assists and leads the Sharks and all NHL defensemen with 63 points this season, 21 of which have come on the power-play. He also owns an impressive +16 rating, though he ranks third on San Jose in that category. Center Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 30 goals this season. His eight power-play goals are tied with Hertl, who’s second on the team with 26 goals and 53 points this season.
Goaltender Martin Jones, who is 27-10-4 with a save percentage of .899, a goals-against average of 2.88, and one shutout this season, will likely start against the Capitals on Thursday. He has won each of his past five starts while posting a save percentage of .935 and giving up only eight goals in that span. In his career against the Capitals, the 29-year old netminder is 5-2-0 with a save percentage of .925, a goals-against average of 2.15, and two shutouts. He made 33 saves against the Capitals in the first meeting of the year.
-Since February 1, the Capitals have killed 18 of the 20 penalties they’ve faced (90%), the fifth-highest rate in the NHL, while ranking third in shorthanded time on ice (37:23) in that span
-Through 56 games this season, Ovechkin’s time on ice per shift average is 1:00, the second-highest in the NHL (Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien: 1:03)
-The Capitals’ team-wide 11.0 shooting percentage ranks fourth in the NHL this season; Washington has maintained a 10.98 shooting percentage on the road this season, the second-highest rate in the NHL.
A Look Back In Time
Center Nicklas Backstrom netted the game-winner on a slap shot from the left circle after getting a cross-ice pass from forward Brett Connolly with 1:28 in the second period. Center Lars Eller added an empty-netter with 1:49 left in the game to seel the win for the Capitals. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves in the shutout.
By Harrison Brown