The San Jose Sharks (14-9-2) will conclude a compacted four-game road trip with a visit to Alexander Ovechkin, advanced stats punching bag Brooks Orpik, and the Washington Capitals (15-11-1) today. Japers’ Rink has some more links and info from the opponents’ side of the ice.
Tonight’s game is the first of two meetings between teams with similar histories: Both have sustained regular-season success for about the last decade, and neither team has any postseason hardware to show for it. While the “playoff choker” label really isn’t apt for either team, the two have shared a similar fate and the narratives of both teams are likely remain intertwined for as long as either team goes without a Cup.
The storylines surrounding the teams this season have even been eerily similar. After suffering through a team-wide scoring drought (sound familiar?), coach Barry Trotz has recently reunited the high-scoring duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the team’s top line.
San Jose’s top line of Timo Meier, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski will likely see a lot of the Ovechkin/Backstrom line, alongside Washington’s top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. In 25 brief minutes at home this season with that grouping on the ice, the Capitals have attempted only 35 percent of shots at 5v5. Without either of those defensemen on the ice, the Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Tom Wilson line have attempted 65 percent of all shots. The true effectiveness of that group surely lies somewhere in between those figures, but that’s a wide range of outcomes for Trotz’ top unit.
DeBoer will try to match his Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc line with the Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun shutdown unit against Washington’s top unit as much as possible, to try to free up more favorable situations for the Joes. The outcome of that matchup battle will likely dictate the game’s flow.
Washington has struggled to generate many shots from dangerous areas of the ice this season, and they’ve allowed their fair share of dangerous shots against. If San Jose can silence their first line, it should be fairly smooth skating for tonight’s contest.
After loading up the top two lines and inserting Dylan DeMelo in the lineup for injured or scratched Joakim Ryan or Tim Heed, San Jose has become a more top-heavy team. Marcus Sorensen will make his season debut with the big club, called up after placing Joonas Donskoi on injured reserve. Pete DeBoer will be sliding Sorensen into the third line alongside Chris Tierney and Joel Ward tonight. Last season with Sorensen and Tierney on the ice together, San Jose attempted only 47 percent of all shots. With Sorensen and Ward together, the team attempted 56 percent of all shots. If that line’s chemistry ends up closer to the Sorensen/Ward side of the shot-differential ledger, San Jose could see continued secondary scoring (color me pleasantly surprised with a seven-goal Tierney).
The puck drops at 4 p.m. Pacific, 7 p.m. local time at Capital One Arena.