Sharks at Capitals Preview: Sharks still seeking road win

Both teams are coming off significant losses to lower-ranked opponents.

The San Jose Sharks (28-16-7, 2nd Pacific) face the Washington Capitals (27-16-5, 3rd Metropolitan) this afternoon for one last try at a win before the All-Star break.

The Capitals have lost five games in a row, most recently in an 8-5 decision against the 30th-place Chicago Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews scored a hat trick, and the most prominent Capital to score was John Carlson, who will be coming to San Jose for the All-Star Game this weekend.

The Sharks have lost three in a row and allowed six goals in each loss. Obvious observation: 18 goals against in three games is not ideal.

History is on the Sharks’ side here: they have a 13-24-3 all-time record against the Caps and a 7-11-3 record in D.C.

Champs Looking Like Chumps

That hurt me to write. But it’s a little bit true.

The 2018 Stanley Cup Champions haven’t been playing great during their five-game losing streak. Prior to the beating by Chicago in their recent slump, they allowed Viktor Arvidsson to score a hat trick, including a short-handed goal, in a 7-2 loss to Nashville.

Relentlessly fun bloggers Russian Machine Never Breaks took a really good look at the Caps’ losing streak yesterday. Their conclusion: it’s partly luck, which the Sharks can’t control. The part the Sharks can capitalize on: net-front weakness. The Capitals have allowed a lot of shots around the front of the net during their slump; RMNB believes a combination of neutral zone and defensive zone play is the culprit. So the Sharks should look to seize on one of those lapses.

Defensive Depletion

Both teams are dealing with injuries on the blueline. Karlsson is out of the question for tonight and Vlasic was an “option” last night, but didn’t end up playing. The Sharks have had to rely heavily on 26-year-old Radim Simek, who plays first pair despite suiting up in the NHL for the first time this season.

In D.C., the Capitals are down Christian Djoos. He’s a young guy, but talented and was getting steady time on the bottom pair. With him out, the Caps have been rotating in Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler.

But their biggest worry is Matt Niskanen, a guy they historically haven’t had to worry about. He’s their main defender alongside John Carlson and gets a ton of ice time.

Niskanen is having a pretty bad season, and Japers’ Rink took a look at his numbers back in late November. It seems as though his numbers and his talent aren’t matching up, and the Rink proposes Niskanen may be playing hurt.

God Help the Goalies

Neither San Jose goaltender has had a save percentage above .900 during this three game streak. League average save percentage is .908.

In fact, neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell has a save percentage above .900 on the entire season. Which yeah, they’ve been dragged down by these past three games. But that’s still pretty concerning (Fun fact: the only other team whose goalies are both below .900 is the Florida Panthers!).

The Capitals’ goaltenders don’t have great numbers either, but the Sharks are at a clear disadvantage if it becomes a goalie battle.

I don’t know what the answer is for the goalkeeping. But the play of Dell and Jones leaves me with a lot of questions.

Bold prediction: Both teams buck trend and it’s a 1-0 shootout game.

I just hope both teams have fun.