Dec. 4 vs. San Jose Sharks at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7
San Jose Sharks 14-9-2
Washington Capitals 15-11-1
Washington hosts the San Jose Sharks on Monday night in the middle match of the Capitals’ season-long five-game homestand. The Caps are coming off a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night, a victory that gives Washington a split of the first two games of the homestand.
A third of the way into the 2017-18 season, Caps goaltender Braden Holtby has 14 wins, tied for fifth in the NHL. He picked up the most recent of those on Saturday against Columbus, leaders of the Metropolitan Division. Holtby made 32 saves – including 16 in the third period and several of the spectacular variety – to help the Caps prevail over the Blue Jackets.
Washington also got even-strength goals from three of its four forward lines, and a power-play goal from Alex Ovechkin in support of Holtby’s crease heroics. The Caps’ bottom six was reconfigured ahead of Saturday’s game, and each of those two lines scored in the first 2:06 of the game to stake Washington to its earliest 2-0 lead in a game since it scored twice in the first 46 seconds of its home opener against Montreal on Oct. 7.
“We came out well and executed some really good scoring chances at the start of the game,” says Holtby. “As any goalie knows, if the first couple of shots are scoring chances, they’re tough to handle, and that was good on us that we executed that. But obviously there is some work to be done for the rest of the game, but I thought we battled. You’ve got to give [the Blue Jackets] a lot of credit. They’re a good team, and it was good for us to see where they’re at, because we know we have to improve.”
Washington forged that two-goal lead in the first, but gave it back in the second with a pair of horrid shifts in its own end of the ice, both featuring repeated turnovers and failed clearing attempts. The second of those Columbus goals was a shorthanded strike, and the Caps rebounded to score Ovechkin’s power-play goal to retake the lead at 3-2, just 37.6 seconds ahead of the game’s second intermission.
“A big reason why we won was we competed after giving up a goal or a giveaway or something,” says Holtby. “We didn’t back down and we battled really well in front of the net tonight. There are some positives, and some areas where we’d really like to get better.”
Like the shifts on which Columbus scored in the second, the Caps’ third period performance won’t be found in a museum anywhere. They were outshot 17-3 and out-attempted 33-9 in the game’s final 20 minutes, which was played entirely at five-on-five.
“I didn’t like the third period,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Once we got a 4-2 lead [early in the third], I thought we ended up on our heels a little too much. [The Jackets] had a lot of [offensive] zone time and they a lot of chances. Holts was fantastic. I liked our start, but we did give up some quality chances. They’re a high-pressure team, so we’ve got to manage the puck a little bit better. I thought Holts was exceptional.”
Two points is two points, and the Caps found a way to get two they needed badly and to nip a potential losing streak in the bud. Although Washington hasn’t been able to string together more than three consecutive wins at any point in the first third of the season, it also hasn’t lost more than two straight. The Caps have had three two-game winning streaks; they’ve lost two straight in regulation on three occasions.
Winners of eight of their last 10 at home, the Caps are in the midst of a challenging homestand against quality opponents. Washington hosted two of the league’s four division leaders in the first two games, and San Jose is the third team in a row to come to the District as one of the top three teams in the circuit in fewest goals against.
“I never mention the word ‘measuring stick’ to our guys,” says Trotz. “We’re playing some quality opponents right now. The L.A. Kings are a quality opponent. Columbus is a quality opponent. San Jose is a quality opponent. Four of the five teams that we’re up against in the next little while here are four of the top five teams in the National Hockey League defensively.
“It’s hard to score on those teams. They either have an exceptional goaltender or a good system or a real good defense. They have all those elements that make them really good.”
Washington managed to solve Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky four times on Saturday, halting his streak of eight straight starts with two or fewer goals against. On Monday, they’ll go up against a guy they’ve never defeated, San Jose’s Martin Jones. In four career starts against Washington, Jones is 4-0-0 with two shutouts, a 1.00 GAA and a .963 save pct. Both of those shutouts, by the way, were achieved here in the District where Jones has never surrendered a goal (55 shots, 55 saves).
Throw in the fact that the Sharks permit an average of just 29.7 shots on net per game – second fewest in the league – while Washington generates a league-low 28.9 shots on net per game, and the Caps would seem to have their work cut out for them on Monday.
San Jose is finishing up a four-game road trip that produced victories in Philadelphia and Florida, respectively, on the first two stops of the tour. The Sharks absorbed a 5-1 loss at the hands of the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Saturday night before heading on to Washington on Saturday.
The Sharks are tied with Vancouver for third place in the NHL’s Pacific Division standings, but San Jose has two games in hand on the Canucks. Those two teams are three points south of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights.
San Jose is 7-3-1 on the road this season, and just 7-6-1 at home. The Sharks have permitted only five power-play goals in those 11 road games, and their 86.5% kill rate on the road is sixth best in the league.