Last Stop Before Home – March, the Caps’ California trip began in San Jose and ended in Anaheim. This time around, the itinerary was reversed, with the opener in Anaheim and the finale in San Jose wrapped around the middle match in Los Angeles. But unless the Caps are able to salvage something in the way of a point or two from Saturday afternoon’s trip finale against the Sharks, they’ll head home with nothing to show for nearly a week on the road, just as they did last season.
Washington lugs a seven-game California losing streak into Saturday’s game in San Jose; the Caps’ last win in the Golden State was a 2-1 shootout victory over the Ducks in Anaheim just over two years ago, on March 7, 2016.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get two points [Saturday] and raise our game,” says Caps center Lars Eller. “I think the game in L.A. was a bit better than the one in Anaheim, [but] we have another gear or two that we need to find [Saturday].”
In addition to finding another gear, the Caps need to find the back of the net. Washington is finding that there is no California goal rush; the Caps have scored just 13 goals in their last eight games in this state, and they enter Saturday’s game with one goal in their last seven periods of hockey, that from rookie Jakub Vrana in Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Kings.
After going without a goal for 25 games, Vrana has now scored each of the Capitals’ last two goals, dating back to the middle of the second period of last Saturday’s Stadium Series game in Annapolis.
The trip started on Tuesday in Anaheim with a 4-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Ducks.
“We’re playing teams that are fighting for playoff spots,” notes Eller. “They’re playing desperate, they’re playing hard for 60 minutes. I think it starts with just matching their level of intensity and desperation. If we do that, then I’m confident that we have a chance to get out of here with two points. But it starts with the effort and the compete level.”
Caps coach Barry Trotz experimented with some new line combinations at Friday’s practice at San Jose’ SAP Center, making adjustments to all four lines. Some of those alterations were a by-product of Tom Wilson’s absence from the practice session; the winger was given a “maintenance day” after suffering a broken nose on Thursday in Los Angeles when he blocked a Jake Muzzin shot with his face.
“Well, we’re looking for some offense,” says Trotz. “Our last couple of games, we’ve been doing a lot of good things. I think in both of the games we probably played well enough to get a point or two out of them. The first game we obviously dug ourselves a hole and couldn’t get a save. The rest of the game, I thought we had numerous chances. But we had no conversion rate. Our conversion rate is very low.”
Shark Specialist – Just over three months ago in Washington, Caps center Travis Boyd made his NHL debut in a 4-1 win over the Sharks at Capital One Arena. Two nights later, Boyd was in the lineup again for the Caps’ 6-2 win over Chicago. Returned to AHL Hershey days later, Boyd had been with the Bears until he was recalled to Washington last week.
This week, he went on his first prolonged road trip as an NHL player, and on Saturday he is expected to draw back into the Washington lineup for his third NHL game, and his second against the Sharks.
“I’m super excited,” said Boyd earlier in the week, just as the Caps were preparing to embark upon their California journey. “Obviously it’s going to be exciting going to California, but it’s also my first real road trip with the team and I’ll get to see how they travel and how everything works and I’m really looking forward to getting out there.”
Boyd was in his third full season with the Bears when he was summoned from the AHL. He has gone from playing probably around 20 minutes a night as one of Hershey’s go-to guys to watching from the press box in Washington, and finally, getting back into the lineup today in San Jose. Even then, he’s likely to play half or fewer of the minutes to which he is accustomed to playing with the Bears.
“It’s an adjustment period,” admits Boyd. “It’s definitely different than when I’m down in Hershey. I think the big thing is just to stay in the game mentally so that when you do get out there, you’re ready to go. And it’s about coming to the rink and to use your practice time to focus on getting better, to really try and show the coaches what I can do and to take this experience and to get all that I can from it.”
Reunion Tour – On the first night of this trip in Anaheim, the Caps ran into old friend Jason Chimera, traded from the Islanders to the Ducks just ahead of the trade deadline late last month. Now that they’re in San Jose, the Caps have a chance to renew acquaintances with a couple of Chimera’s old linemates in Washington, Joel Ward and Eric Fehr.
Ward is finishing out the three-year contract he signed with the Sharks in the summer of 2015, and the Sharks obtained Fehr in a deadline deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fehr had been toiling with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls prior to last month’s swap.
“it was good to see Fehrsie find his way back,” says Trotz. “I was just saying that with Fehrsie and Wardo, if we could just get Brooks Laich here, we’d have our second line from my first year. We’ll all be reunited.
“That’s good for Fehrsie. Fehrsie is a played who has been able to find his way through the league and to be productive, and good for him.”
In The Nets – For the Caps, Philipp Grubauer gets the net for the second consecutive game. Including relief appearances, Grubauer will be seeing action for the sixth time in the last seven games and the ninth time in the Caps’ last dozen contests. He is starting consecutive games for the Capitals for the first time since Nov. 12-15, 2016.
After starting the season 0-5-1 in his first six decisions, Grubauer is 8-3-2 since. Lifetime against the Sharks, he is 1-1-1 in three career appearances, with a 1.96 GAA and a .926 save pct.
Martin Jones is expected to man the crease on Saturday for San Jose. Coming off a relatively easy 16-save shutout of the St. Louis Blues here on Thursday night, Jones is 8-6-2 in 16 starts since the All-Star break, with a 2.13 GAA and a .931 save pct.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Jones is 4-1-0 with a couple of shutouts, a 1.60 GAA and a .941 save pct.
All Lined Up – Here’s how we expect the Capitals and the Sharks to look when they take the ice on Saturday afternoon at SAP Center in San Jose:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
10-Connolly, 19-Backstrom, 65-Burakovsky
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
18-Stephenson, 72-Boyd, 83-Beagle
9-Kane, 8-Pavelski, 27-Donskoi
48-Hertl, 39-Couture, 89-Boedker
28-Meier, 50-Tierney, 62-Labanc
23-Goodrow, 16-Fehr, 20-Sorenson