Unlike the last two seasons, there isn't a ton of suspense involved in whether the Sharks will clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year but they can make it official tonight with a win over Washington as long as Dallas loses in any fashion to Ottawa. San Jose hosts the Capitals in the final game of their three-game homestand before heading out to Alberta; these are six very bankable points as the Sharks hope to gain some separation from the Ducks in the division.
The main thing to keep in mind when it comes to beating the Washington Capitals is to stay out of the penalty box. The Caps boast one of the most dangerous power plays, thanks to Alexander Ovechkin's elite ability to launch one-timers and Adam Oates' innovative 1-3-1 setup that ensures his captain will be able to generate those shots. In a lot of ways, the Caps have been the complete inverse of the Sharks this season; a bad even-strength team with a mediocre penalty kill that makes its living 5-on-4. Keep them off the power play and they're very beatable, especially considering injuries to Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski mean Jay Beagle will be centering Ovechkin at evens tonight.
Of course, while the Caps are without Laich and Grabovski they do have a fairly new addition to their lineup who's unsurprisingly made a big impact. Widely considered one of the best players not in the NHL for years, 21-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov made his North American debut six games ago and already has five assists in his young career. He'll be centered by Nick Backstrom and facing the Sharks tonight so it's a virtual certainty he'll pot his first NHL goal in this game. Former Blue Jaroslav Halak, shuttled out of St. Louis due to the Ryan Miller acquisition, has been nails for Washington since his arrival at the deadline with a .935 SV% in seven appearances. Expect the Sharks to ice a very similar lineup to the one that defeated Anaheim on Thursday, with Raffi Torres and Brad Stuart still out.
|33-27-11, 77 points
||46-18-7, 97 points|
|5th in Metropolitan
||1st in Pacific
Projected Sharks Lineup
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Matt Irwin - Justin Braun
Scott Hannan - Dan Boyle
Projected Capitals Lineup