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Sharks at Capitals Preview: Stopping Ovechkin

When you go head to head with Ovi, you just have to hope you can contain him...

Nov 20, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) pinches San Jose Sharks left wing Matt Nieto (83) after a fight broke out during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

As the San Jose Sharks (21-19-2, fifth Pacific) head to DC for their rare away game against the Washington Capitals (23-11-9, fourth Metropolitan), they will hope to hold the legendary Alexander Ovechkin off of the scoresheet, and not become another casualty as he attempts to catch Wayne Gretzky in the all-time goal-scorer race. So far this season, the Great 8 is currently ranked second in goals with 29, trailing only last week’s First Star, Chris Kreider.

The Capitals are a good team, there’s no doubt about that. They’ve made playoffs in 13 out of the last 14 seasons, and are on pace to finish in a top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division this season, as well.

The one knock on the Capitals is that they have leaned on the NHL’s unique overtime point system for too many of their points. If the Stanley Cup was awarded to the team with the most overtime losses, the Capitals would be the odds-on betting favorites, as they currently lead the league with nine. The team’s win/loss ratio is actually 23-20, putting their 23-11-9 record into perspective.

Along with Ovechkin, the Capitals' forward depth spreads far and wide, with the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom, who we didn’t get the privilege of watching earlier in the season when Washington came to the Bay.

Since Braden Holtby departed as a free agent in 2020, the Capitals have struggled to find an identity in net, which has caused the team to struggle at times. They’ve been running with a tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, but neither have jumped at the opportunity to steal the starting role. It just seems like a problem that is going to keep the team from contending again during the Ovechkin era.

Washington has especially struggled as of late, going 3-5-2 through the last 10 games, most recently getting shut out by the Vegas Golden Knights at home. Through this 10 game span, they’ve also found a way to lose to the Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils, two teams that they easily outclass. Confidence is at a low and it may be a good opportunity for the Sharks to pounce on a mentally fragmented team.

However, head coach Peter Laviolette has a more optimistic view of how the team has fared, telling media after the loss to Vegas that, “if the guys continue to work and do the right things, eventually they’ll get rewarded.”

Capitals forward Tom Wilson had this to add: “We’re not hitting the panic button. We’re still a good hockey team. We still got a lot of good pieces. We’re still in a really good spot in the standings. That being said, we’ve got to turn it around. We’ve got to find our consistency. Our expectation doesn’t change. We want to be at the top of our division, top of the league.”

After getting blown into oblivion against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the Sharks will be coming off of a three-day break heading into tomorrow’s game. The team is riding a two-game losing skid, and the schedule won’t get much easier from here on out, with five of the next seven opponents sitting in a playoff spot. If the Sharks want to be playing hockey in May, they’ll need to string together some wins, because the Pacific Division is getting tighter day by day.

Boughner leaning towards Reimer on Wednesday

While head coach Bob Boughner said he has yet to decide to a goaltending rotation for the upcoming road trip, he is leaning towards using James Reimer on Wednesday against the Capitals.

Reimer, who began the season as one of the top goaltenders in the league, has regressed over time and has recorded less than a .835 save percentage in three of his last four games played. He was also pulled and relieved by Adin Hill in the humiliating 7-1 loss to the Lightning on Saturday.

Over the course of his career, Reimer has done well for himself against Washington, going 5-4-2 with a .930 save percentage.

Hoping for a better result this time around

This is the second and final game that the Sharks will play against the Capitals until the 2022-23 campaign — unless of course, the two teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final.

In the last meeting back in November, the Capitals blanked San Jose, 4-0, with two goals apiece from Ovechkin and Conor Sheary (who always seems to haunt the Sharks, by the way). Adin Hill was in net for that one, saving 17 of 20 shots that came his way, while the Brent Burns/Mario Ferraro pairing combined for a -5 plus/minus rating.

A depleted blue line could affect these games

The Sharks’ blue line is simply decimated with injuries. Erik Karlsson and Jake Middleton are both expected to not play tomorrow, and Jaycob Megna — who blocked a shot against the Lightning and was hobbling around after the game — isn’t confirmed to suit up, either.

Earlier today, the Sharks announced that Karlsson underwent surgery to repair a muscle tear in his left forearm. The day-to-day injury is now on a longer timeline, though recovery times for this type of repair vary. It sounds as though the team expects at least six weeks, as his next evaluation will come in mid-March.

San Jose’s defensive core has already struggled mightily this season, and missing those three, especially Karlsson, against an offensive juggernaut like the Capitals doesn’t instill a ton of confidence.

Do those injuries leave the Sharks with Burns/Ferraro, Vlasic/Merkley and Simek/Meloche? I mean hey, at least they aren’t going up against the greatest goal-scorer in the history of the game, right? Right?