Washington Captials Host San Jose Sharks in Battle of Underachievers

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIFebruary 13, 2012

Dale Hunter is 16-13-4 as coach of the Washington Capitals
Dale Hunter is 16-13-4 as coach of the Washington CapitalsGreg Fiume/Getty Images

No two teams have personified regular season success not translating in the playoffs as much as, perhaps, the Washington Capitals and the San Jose Sharks.

Both teams are working towards a fifth straight division title. Both have been the top seed in their conference more than once.

Given those accomplishments, the fact that neither has even made it to Memorial Day still alive in the playoffs gives them the perception of being chokers. Some of that is unfair.

The Caps had an epic series against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the height of their team. No matter what the regular season records were, the Pens were better.

Same holds true for the 2006 Sharks.

They relied heavily on players who turned out to be not as great as they appeared at the time. Jonathan Cheechoo, Nils Ekman and Steve Bernier were top-six forwards, Vesa Toskala was in net and Scott Hannan was the best player on the blue line.

However, the Edmonton Oilers had Chris Pronger, Jason Smith and Jaroslav Spacek manning the space in front of Dwayne Roloson.

There is no doubt that the Sharks suffer less from this image of having been to three conference finals over the last seven years, and two in a row. But, they have lost to just one less lower seed (3) since their division title run began, and the only way to shake that image is to beat more higher seeds.

Perhaps, both teams are tanking the regular season to make that easier.

After Sunday loss to the Blues in St. Louis, the Sharks are all but out of the running for a top-two seed that would give them a good shot at home ice in the second round. They would have to play more than 100 percentage points better than a team with a much softer schedule and nearly 150 points better than the one facing a tougher one.

Washington's loss dropped them two games back of the Florida Panthers  for the division title, and leaves their playoff hopes precarious. According to official NHL standings, they are behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

A large part of the problem for Washington was their bad start to the season. They started slow last year and turned it around, but they did not have the patience this season, firing coach Bruce Boudreau less than two months into the season.

They had a promising end to 2011 and a promising beginning to 2012, winning four games in a row to bring Dale Hunter's coaching record to 9-7-1.

But, the Sharks snapped that with a 5-2 drubbing—a rare margin of more than one goal for the Sharks—and they are just 7-6-3 since.

The Sharks are playing poorly, too. They're just 4-6-1 over their last 11 games, and they have appeared terribly susceptible to an aggressive forechecking team and to those teams that can compete with the second-ranked faceoff team in the league at 53.1 percent. Washington is just over 50 percent.

Neither team has the prolific scoring it has had over the past few seasons.

San Jose is 11th at 2.77 goals per game, while Washington is 13th at 2.76. The Sharks are fifth defensively (2.34) and the Caps are tied for 15th (2.76).

Special teams have been good for San Jose lately—10 for their last 25 on the power play and over 85 percent on the penalty kill over nearly two months—but for the season their PP is fourth (20 percent) and their PK in the bottom five (78.3).

Washington is 12th (18.4) and 23rd (81.0).