The Washington Capitals have been streak busting lately while getting hot themselves. Tonight at home, they will have yet another shot to shut down a hot team when the San Jose Sharks visit the big phone booth in Washington, DC.
The Sharks have won seven of their last eight and have earned points in all eight games. The Capitals have managed to earn points in 18 of their last 22 games with a record of 11-4-7 over that span.
Washington is 5-1-3 in their last nine games and has not allowed more than two goals in regulation stretching back 22 games. The Capitals have allowed just 39 goals.
The Capitals power play and goal tending have played a key part in their recent defensive success. The Caps have killed 35 of their last 37 short-handed situations.
Semyon Varlamov, Braden Holtby, and Michael Neuvirth, who shut out the Penguins on Sunday, have combined for 1.71 goals against and a .942 save percentage over that same stretch. The Caps have jumped from eighth to fifth in the NHL in defense, surrendering just 2.39 goals per game.
Neuvirth's shut out on Sunday was the first over Pittsburgh in the regular season since Don Beaupre shut down Mario Lemieux on October 29, 1991.
The Capitals seem to finding a rhythm offensively. They have produced a goal in each of the last six periods for the first time since Nov 24-28 when they scored a goal in seven straight periods.
Washington will get a boost tonight on offense with Alexander Semin return’s. Semin was the team’s leading scorer when he went down with a hip injury on Jan 8. He has missed 12 games and many have speculated that Semin’s slow start this season was a result of playing with that bad hip.
While Semin returns, the Caps could be without their defensive leader, Mike Green. Green left Sunday’s game after being struck with a puck in the face at the end of the first period. He did not return to the game and did not practice with the team yesterday.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau had this to say when asked if Green could have suffered a concussion. "I think we'd have to [consider the possibility that it's a concussion] it's definitely way more serious now, any injury to the head, than it was 10 to 15 years ago, so we always err on the side of caution. You just hope that that is not the case. We'll wait until [Tuesday] morning and hopefully he feels better.
"We'll listen to what the trainer and Mike has to say and that's the advice we'll use.” Boudreau said.
All four lines are contributing and so are the Caps rookies. Washington had five rookies in the line-up on Sunday with each making a huge contribution. Neuvirth had the shutout, while defenseman John Carlson stepped up in Mike Green's absence to lead the team in ice time. Mathieu Perreault set up the first goal and Marcus Johansson scored the second goal, a shorthanded marker.
The Johansson goal was the first shorthanded goal by a Caps rookie since Alex Ovechkin scored one back in the 2005-06 season and Johansson was just the sixth rookie to score shorthanded in the NHL this season
While Ovechkin and Backstrom are having career lows in points, they both have 50 or more points this season. Ovechkin with 55 and Backstrom with 50 make the Capitals one of just four teams in the NHL with two 50-point sorcerers. Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver are the other three.
San Jose is currently sixth in the Western conference, just two points ahead of ninth place Los Angeles. The Sharks are a team that has predominantly been built through the NHL draft. Twelve of the teams 22 players were originally drafted by San Jose.
They are led in points by team captain and center Joe Thornton. Thornton has 46 points and is closely trailed by Danny Heatley and Ryane Clowe.
Devin Setoguchi (4-3-7), Clowe (3-4-7), and Logan Couture (4-2-6) all have five-game point’s streaks going for San Jose at present. While Antti Niemi is coming off his third shutout of the season on Sunday.
A point of interest to watch for tonight would be the third period. San Jose has been outscored by 11 goals in the last period this season while Washington plays its best hockey in the last 20 minutes. The Capitals have outscored their opponents by 20 goals in the final stanza this season.
The Caps trail the Sharks in the all time season series 9-16-1-1. Washington trails first place Tampa Bay by just three points.