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Caps Conclude California Trip in San Jose

March 21, 2014
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March 22 vs. San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose

Time: 10:30 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: Capitals Radio Network


Washington Capitals (33-27-11)

San Jose Sharks (46-18-7)


The Capitals close out a three-game California road trip with a Saturday night visit to SAP Center in San Jose where they will face the Sharks. Washington will be seeking its first victory in the San Jose barn in more than two decades.


With a 3-2 win over Anaheim on Tuesday and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Kings on Thursday to start the trip, the Caps have assured themselves of a break-even trip at the very least. But given the tightness of the standings and the lateness of the hour from a schedule standpoint (only 11 games remain), Washington has to keep its foot on the gas in the finale of the trip.


Then there’s the Caps’ dubious history here. Washington’s last win in San Jose came on Oct. 30, 1993. They’re 0-11-1 in a dozen visits since, and the Sharks have doubled up the Caps by a combined 46-23 on the scoreboard during that span.


Washington’s three-game winning streak came to a halt with Thursday’s loss, but the Caps have claimed at least a point in four straight (3-0-1). Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has started seven straight games for Washington, and the Caps are 4-2-1 in those contests.


The Caps’ overall team defense has been better during that stretch, too. Washington has allowed three or fewer goals in eight straight games, the team’s longest stretch of its kind this season. Previously, the Caps went five straight games surrendering three or fewer goals from Oct. 28-Nov. 7.


Washington has also allowed two or fewer goals in three straight games, one shy of its best previous mark this season. The Caps allowed two or fewer goals in four straight games – all Washington victories – from Nov. 1-7.


Coming out west and facing a trio of defensively stingy teams, the Caps have been uncharacteristically stingy themselves, permitting just three goals against in the first two games on the trip. They’ve done a reasonably good job of adapting.


“I think the style is a little bit different,” says Caps defenseman Jack Hillen of the difference in style between the Western and Eastern conferences. “I played in the West one year and I found the style different. I feel like the East is more trying to push pace and the West is very clamp down, defensive-oriented. Everybody always makes sure that they’re on the defensive side of the puck in all phases of the game where in the East you try to push the play a little bit and maybe take a risk or two more, try to get behind a defenseman or something.


“Both Eastern and Western Conferences are very fast; it’s just minor tweaks here or there. I like playing both sides.”


Washington has enough size and speed that it can hold its own against Western teams. With six games remaining against Western foes this season, the Caps are 11-8-3 in their previous 22 contests against the opposite conference.


“Western hockey,” explains Caps left wing Jason Chimera, “you play along the boards a lot and you grind it out every time. They kind of build their teams accordingly out here because of that.


“Coming through California, it used to be point night but now it’s one of those things where it’s hard to get a point out of here because they play really good defensive hockey and they’ve got big forwards that can score and work the puck along the walls. You’ve just got to take a page out of their book and get it deep. We’ve got some big guys ourselves who can do the same thing.”


The Capitals’ power play unit went 0-for-3 in Thursday’s setback to the Kings, but it is clicking along with a 37.8% success rate (14-for-37) in the team’s last dozen games.


Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer have each netted five power-play goals during that span, and Ovechkin is now just two extra-man tallies shy of matching his single-season career best (22) in that department, which also happens to a the franchise record he shares with Peter Bondra. Bondra scored 22 power-play goals in 2000-01 and Ovechkin matched that number in 2007-08.


San Jose is running neck and neck with Anaheim for the top spot in the NHL’s Pacific Division. The Sharks are two points up on the Ducks after defeating Anaheim on Thursday night in San Jose. The Sharks trail St. Louis by two points for the top spot in the Western Conference and the chase for the Presidents’ Trophy,


The Sharks have had four winning streaks of six games in length this season, accounting for more than half of their victories in 2013-14. San Jose’s most recent six-game run ended with a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers at the Shark Tank on Tuesday night.


Since the conclusion of the NHL’s Olympic break, the Sharks are 9-2-1.


For the Sharks, Saturday night’s game is the last of San Jose’s 32 games against Eastern Conference foes this season. The Sharks are 21-7-3 vs. Eastern opponents in 2013-14, and their win total vs. the East is tops among all Western Conference clubs.


In the previous meeting between the two teams at Verizon Center on Jan. 14, the Sharks prevailed 2-1 in a shootout.


San Jose’s attack is a balanced one; the Sharks have eight forwards who have reached the double-digit level in goals. With an average of 2.94 goals per game, the Sharks feature the league’s seventh most potent attack. San Jose is fourth in the circuit with an average of just 2.32 goals allowed per game.


Like the Kings, the Sharks are a strong puck possession team.


“The face-offs,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “They’re a very good face-off team. They skate well, they’ve obviously been playing well all year long, they play with a lot of confidence, they’re averaging like 50 shots a night at home. We’ll address it [Saturday], but maybe the best team in the league we’re playing.


“It’s a fast barn. It’s intimidating, but it’s also fun. As a player, you’ve got to welcome those challenges to want to play in that kind of environment.


“[Thursday] night was no different. [Recent] Stanley Cup champs, that building Staples Center is an incredible building. It’s rocking, it’s state of the art, [it has] three sets of boxes on one side. It’s loud; I thought we handled that well and there’s no reason we shouldn’t [Saturday].”